January 27, 2016 | by H. Chung So
Health experts agree that getting vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the easiest and most effective way to prevent cervical cancers. However, vaccination rates in the United States remain low, with only 40 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys having completed the three-dose cycle in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In response, City of Hope, along with other National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, assisted in crafting a joint statement encouraging young adults to get the vaccination, parents to have their children vaccinated and health care providers to advocate for the vaccine.
“The HPV vaccination is our best defense in stopping HPV infection in our youth and preventing HPV-related cancers in our communities. The HPV vaccine is cancer prevention,” the statement noted.
Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D. a professor in City of Hope’s Beckman Research Institute and founding director of the Center for Community Alliance for Research & Education said there are safe, effective vaccines to prevent HPV infections and most HPV-related cancers of the cervix, genital and pharynx.
“Yet, in the U.S. and particularly in California, our cities and schools, and our neighborhoods and families are not protected against HPV,” said Tam Ashing, who helped craft the cancer centers’ joint statement. “There is an urgent need to vaccinate against HPV.”
To dispel myths and provide additional clarity, Mark Wakabayashi, M.D., M.P.H., co-director of the Gynecological Oncology/Peritoneal Malignancy Program, highlights four facts about the vaccine that everyone should know.
1. The HPV vaccine is safe: “One of the biggest myths I hear about the vaccine is that it will cause a full-blown HPV infection,” Wakabayashi said. “However, that is not possible because the vaccine does not contain any genetic material from the virus.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concurs, citing several large-scale studies that support the vaccine’s safety. Side effects - if any - are usually mild and short-lasting, and may include:
Pain, redness or swelling at vaccine injection site
Muscle or joint pain
2. Boys and young men should get the vaccine, too: While the vaccine’s biggest impact is reducing incidence of cervical cancer, getting an HPV vaccine is beneficial for boys and men, too. HPV infections are also linked to oral, anal and penile cancers, as well as genital warts, and the vaccine can prevent many of these diseases.
Further, Wakabayashi added that “vaccinating boys and men helps boost ‘herd immunity’ by blocking the virus’ transmission in communities.”
3. The new nine-type vaccine can provide additional protection: In December 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil 9, a vaccine that protects against nine HPV types (6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58) that cause 90 percent of cervical cancer and genital warts.
This is a significant improvement over the initial set of HPV vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, which only protects against types 16 and 18, responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against types 6 and 11, which cause genital warts.
Given its increased coverage over additional HPV strains, Wakabayashi said that eligible patients — including those who have previously vaccinated with Gardasil or Cervarix — should consider getting the Gardasil 9 vaccine for enhanced prevention against HPV-related cancers.
4. HPV-vaccinated women still need regular screening: Although HPV vaccines are effective against most cancer-causing types, they still fall short of providing complete coverage. As such, Wakabayashi advises all women, even those who have been vaccinated, to follow the standard cervical cancer screening schedule.
“Additionally, women should see their gynecologists right away if they experience symptoms, regardless of their last Pap smear or having been vaccinated,” Wakabayashi said, adding that this can be crucial to catching cervical cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages.
These symptoms include:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Menstral periods that are heavier or longer than usual
Unusual discharge from the vagina
Pain during intercourse
Learn more about City of Hope's cervical cancer program and research. If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.
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