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    A Cancer Vaccine – Preventing Cervical and Head and Neck Cancers Through HPV Immunization

    Dr. Jacklyn Oakley, Faculty, Deaconess Family Medicine Residency 01/10/2017

    HPV—the Human Papilloma virus—is a major topic of conversation across numerous aspects of the medical field.  Why?  There are several reasons:

    • HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide, as approximately 80 percent of the population will contract at least one type of HPV during their lifetime.
    • Many people have no symptoms of the infection and so do not know that they are spreading it to others via sexual contact. 
    • Certain strains of HPV cause almost all cervical cancers.
    • In addition, certain strains can also cause anal, penile, vulvar, vaginal, and oropharyngeal (oral and throat) cancers. It’s believed that up to 70% of head and neck cancers may be linked to HPV.
    • There is a vaccine available for up to 9 different strains of HPV that is shown to be highly effective.  This means that for the first time ever, we have what is essentially a vaccine for certain types of cancer. This is exciting!
    • This vaccine should be received by pre-pubescent children and young adults, which means pediatricians, family medicine doctors and OB/GYNs are those who administer the vaccine.

    More about HPV
    For many years, many people only associated HPV with genital warts, but we now know certain strains are far more dangerous.  Additionally, people can be affected by more than one strain of the virus.   Your body may fight off the infection over time, but sometimes the infection may persist.  Risk factors for persistent HPV infection include early age at the first sexual encounter, multiple sexual partners, smoking, and immunocompromised conditions.

    The vaccine – what it is, and who should get it
    Gardasil-9 is a safe vaccination to prevent nine different strains of HPV.  Seven of these strains are cancer causing whereas the other two cause genital warts.  Routine vaccination against HPV is recommended for 11-12-year olds for the best immune response, females 9-26 who have not been vaccinated, males 9-21 who have not been vaccinated, and men who have sex with men from the ages of 9-26.

    And good news! The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (which includes recommendations from MD Anderson Cancer Center, the American Cancer Society and others) and the CDC have recently revised the vaccination schedule for the HPV vaccination.  For children and adolescents between the ages of 9 and 14, two doses of Gardasil-9 are recommended with at least six months between the doses (the prior recommendation was for three doses).  For those 15-26 years of age, the former three dose series is still recommended.  With new data showing that there is a similar to even greater response to the two dose series as compared to the previous three dose series in these younger individuals, there are hopes that more people will start and finish the series.

    If you have questions about the vaccine, and what it means for your child in the future, please have a conversation with your child’s doctor.

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