Question: Did you get your HPV vaccination?
Cervical cancer kills more than 300,000 women around the world every year. Human papillomavirus is responsible for more than 90% of cervical and anal cancers, 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, more than 60% of penile cancers and 70% of oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States.
The majority of Americans are diagnosed with HPV in their late teens/early 20s. We used to think that the smartest way to vaccinate was to target children (11-12 years old) because they haven’t been exposed to HPV yet. The thinking was that as we get older we are likely to be exposed to HPV, which is why we used to think there was no need to vaccinate someone who has probably already been exposed. In 2018, the FDA raised the age limit for the HPV vaccine to 45 years. Current thinking is that the vaccine will cover nine HPV strains and that the chances of a woman being naturally exposed to all nine are very low. Therefore, regardless of exposure to HPV, vaccination can still reduce the risk of cancer by protecting against the strains that we know cause cancer. As an oncology nurse, seeing patients in their 20s with HPV-related cancers is tragic and preventable.
According to a recent study published in the Lancet that followed 13.7 million women for 13 years, the vaccine has shown a significant reduction in cancer diagnoses. What they found is that cervical cancer has decreased by 87% in women born since 1995. In fact, according to the WHO, this has been observed in all countries where the vaccine is available.
In the United States alone, the CDC estimates that vaccination against HPV prevents 31,200 cancer diagnoses per year. We think of it as a women’s problem, but the reality is that every year 25,400 women and 19,900 men are diagnosed with HPV-related cancer here in our country. As Benjamin Franklin wisely wrote in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1735, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I was vaccinated at the age of 40 and if you can, I urge you to join me.
As we begin Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, let’s celebrate that we now have the opportunity to eradicate a gynecological cancer! This can only happen if the HPV vaccine is widely used and if parents are educated about the importance of the vaccine to their child’s long-term health. Currently, only 42% of our children receive this vaccine. Hopefully, in time, awareness will lead to the elimination of deaths from this preventable cancer.
Don’t risk yourself or your children; prevention is possible. For more information about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, please consult your physician or contact our Nurse Navigators at Mission Hope at 805-219-HOPE (4673) with any questions.
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