I have been receiving a lot of calls, emails and questions on twitter regarding Michael Douglas' admission that his oral cancer was caused by HPV.
If you have an adolescent, I am hopeful that your own doctor has already discussed the prevalence of STD’s among the adolescent and young adult population with both you and your tween/teen/young adult. If not, you need to know that HPV infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, with over 6,200,000 new cases annually with the peak rates of infection occurring in women 25 years and younger.
HPV is what doctors would call, “a bad player”. There are over 100 serotypes of this virus, and you often don’t even know you have it before you have passed it on to someone else.
Some HPV serotypes also cause cancer, and researchers are realizing that it doesn’t just cause cervical cancer, but vaginal, vulvar, penile, rectal and oral-pharyngeal cancers (mouth, tongue, tonsils).
When Harald Zur Hausen was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in medicine it was for the research he had done in the 1970’s and 1980’s that identified HPV (specifically types 16 and 18) as the most common cause of cervical cancer. (side note: read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”). Hausen’s discovery enabled other brilliant scientists to develop the FIRST anti-cancer vaccine against HPV. The first HPV vaccine was released in the United States in 2005.
With all of this background , I cannot comprehend why there is any debate surrounding the HPV vaccine. The comment that the HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation is unfounded.
As stated in a press release by the AAP, “there is no scientific validity to this statement.” Since the vaccine has been introduced worldwide there have been more that 35 million doses given with an excellent safety record. Anyone can go to the CDC website to look up safety information on any given vaccine, so do some research. You should also know that doctors, as well as patients are reporting any adverse events related to a vaccine and this ongoing monitoring (post-marketing surveillance) continues to ensure the safety of a vaccine even after it has been approved.
Lastly, the reason that the vaccine is given at age 11-12 (approved down to age 9) is two- fold. You want to give the vaccine PRIOR to exposure to the virus, and unfortunately studies continue to show that some teens are engaging in sexual activity, which is not only sexual intercourse, at very young ages.
The vaccine prevents infection with certain HPV serotypes, but it does NOT treat HPV. Secondly, the vaccine produces a robust immune response in this age group to provide excellent protection. In other words, more bang for your buck!
More and more studies are being done on HPV, with exciting new data about disease reduction being shown in other countries where the vaccine has been given even longer. There couldn’t be better news, the vaccine is working if we give it!
Keep talking to your adolescent about STD’s. Discuss abstinence, condoms, teen pregnancy, and any other information they need to be well informed so that they make good choices as they go through their adolescent and young adult years. At the same time, get both girls and boys their HPV vaccines, it might just save their life.
Has your daughter or son received their HPV vaccine? I would love to hear from you!