Can this vaccine prevent cancer?
For over ten years, there has been a vaccine available to help prevent certain cancers in both males and females.
The vaccine can prevent HPV infection, cervical disease (females), penile cancer (males), genital warts and anal malignancies. It can also protect against some head and neck cancers (cancer in the back of the throat.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 79 million Americans are infected with the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), and 14 million individuals, including teens, are infected each year.
The HPV vaccine is given to both boys and girls in either a series of two injections for children 11 – 14 years of age or a series of three injections for children 15 years and older. For women, the vaccine can be administered up to age 26 and for young men, up to age 21.
The vaccine is best administered at a young age because:
1. Your child’s immune response is better at this age (that is, your child produces a better antibody response to the vaccine than older adolescents)
2. You still have a voice in your child’s health care
3. The vaccine works the best prior to exposure to the virus that can cause cancer
The vaccine is very safe. Considerable testing was conducted to ensure that the vaccine was effective prior to its use in the U.S. Years of testing are required by law to ensure its safety. Minimal side effects have been reported, which include:
- Pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
- Headache or feeling tired
- Muscle or joint pain
The HPV infection is obtained from another person during intimate sexual contact, whether consensual or not. Since the latter cannot be controlled by the child or the parents, parents can protect their child with the HPV vaccine. Clinical trials demonstrated that the vaccine provided close to 100 percent protection against cervical precancers and genital warts.
The purpose of the HPV vaccine is to prevent the HPV infection and potential cancer. Many parents worry that giving their child the HPV vaccine will encourage their teen to become sexually active or prevent them from having children in the future. The vaccine does not make your child sexually active or prevent her or him from having children in the future. In fact, females that are not vaccinated can develop HPV cancers that may require treatment that could affect their ability to have children.
Parents should think of the HPV vaccination in the same way and on the same day as all adolescent vaccines. Talk to your child’s physician about the vaccine, and let your child be one less who will acquire this virus and one less child that will develop potential cancer from HPV in the future.
If you have questions about the vaccine, it is best to speak to your child’s physician. You can also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HPV website and HPV Questions and Answers for additional information.
About the Author
Dr. Ian Jasenof is a an OB/GYN and Dr. Cathy Lynn Joyce specializes in adolescent medicine. Both are physicians with Advocate Medical Group.