Vaccine vials

Great news: There is a vaccine that prevents cancer

The sad news is it’s underutilized

There is a virus that causes certain types of human cancer. It is the human papilloma virus. There are over 100 different subtypes of human papilloma virus. Some types of human papilloma virus can cause common and genital warts.

Fortunately, only nine types of human papilloma virus are associated with serious health concerns and human cancer. These are human papilloma virus subtypes 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.

Approximately one-quarter of all Americans are infected with a type of human papilloma virus (HPV). That is more than 75 million people. HPV affects both boys and girls.

In fact, if you consider it, HPV infection is the most common form of sexually transmitted diseases. There are approximately 15 million new HPV infections in the United States every year, and half of these new infections are in people ages 14-24.

Many of the cases will resolve without any notice. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict which cases will resolve and which will not. The cases that do not resolve can cause serious disease or cancer.

The interesting consideration is that most of the infections don’t immediately cause serious health symptoms or health problems. In this sense, it is almost a silent epidemic. Shockingly, over 25,000 cases of HPV-associated cancers arise in Americans every year.

The types of cancer associated with HPV infections include cancers of the:

cervix
penis
vagina
vulva
rectum/anus
throat
tongue
tonsils

In fact, HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. The great news is that there is a vaccine that protects against many of the subtypes of HPV associated with cancer development. The vaccine should be administered to children around age 11 or 12 before the majority of people get exposed to the STD subtypes of HPV. In some cases, the vaccination can be administered before age 11, but check with your doctor to see if that is appropriate.

The sad news is that not enough children are getting the vaccine. Only about half of all boys get the vaccination, and only approximately 60 percent of girls get the HPV vaccine. It is recommended that children receive two doses of the vaccine, at least one year apart, around age 11 or 12.

HPV vaccination is still recommended for young adults until age 26 for women and age 21 for men if the earlier schedule is missed. If a patient is over 14 years old, a series of three vaccinations, instead of two, may be required. Your doctor will recommend the best vaccination schedule for your child.

This is a public health crisis

Physicians and nurses need to be better educated on the vaccine, and they need to discuss it at an increased volume with parents. Parents need to educate themselves about the vaccine and aggressively insist with their children’s pediatricians that their kids receive the HPV vaccination.

As always, the issue of vaccine safety comes up. Study after study has demonstrated that childhood vaccinations are safe. If there are additional concerns about vaccines that contain preservatives, ask that your doctor use a preservative-free vaccine.

The message from the United States Centers for Disease Control is clear: The Human Papilloma Virus vaccine prevents cancer, and it saves lives.

If you have not done so already, please talk to your children’s pediatrician about them getting the series of HPV vaccinations. Protect your children from getting cancers that they never need to get.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.

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