By Ashley McClary, MD
Have you heard? There’s a vaccine that may help prevent cancer for your child! The HPV vaccine has been part of the routine vaccine schedule for the past 12 years and is designed to protect your child from becoming infected with a virus that causes cancer.
The HPV, or human papillomavirus, is known to cause several types of cancers including cervical, penile, head and neck and other genital cancers. It’s very likely that a friend or family member of yours has suffered with one of these cancers as someone is diagnosed every 20 minutes, every day, all year long in the US1. Sadly, more than 4,000 people die every year from cancer caused by HPV2.
There are several different strains of the virus but we know which strains are more likely to cause cancer. The HPV vaccine is safe and targets these high-risk strains.
People typically become infected with HPV through intimate contact. In fact, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States, more so than gonorrhea or chlamydia. More than 14 million American adolescents become infected every year. Becoming immunized is the best way to protect your child from eventually contracting this virus later in life.
Routine immunization with HPV vaccine for females started in 2006 and males in 2011.
The vaccine is most effective if given at 11-12 years of age, although can be given between the ages of 9 and 26 years. Another benefit is that those younger than age 15 only need two doses, six months apart, to complete their protection. After age 15, it is recommended that adolescents receive three doses to ensure protection. In 2017, about 50 percent of adolescents were vaccinated with HPV, which is up from 43 percent in 20161. However, this is still much lower than those vaccinated against the meningococcal virus – despite the much higher risk of death with HPV-related cancers than from meningococcal infection.
Most people who get the HPV vaccine do not have any serious side effects. The most common complaints are similar to other vaccines and include soreness, redness or swelling in the arm, low grade fevers and headache. After any medical procedure, standing up too quickly may cause dizziness or fainting – this is true for vaccines as well so it is best to continue sitting or lying for 15 minutes after the vaccine. More serious side effect includes a severe allergic reaction, which occurs in 1 in a million doses.4
I hope this article highlights the importance of making sure your adolescent is vaccinated against HPV. For more information please reach out to your child’s provider or visit: cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm, who.int/immunization/topics/hpv/en/, cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-fact-sheet#q4.
Ashley McClary, MD, is a pediatrician with Mission Pediatrics McDowell. To make an appointment, call 828-652-6386.