What if I told you that you could receive three shots and prevent three different kinds of cancers in women, at least two in men, and decrease the number of visits for women to their OB/GYN’s office? Well, one vaccine has the power to do just that.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, approximately 12,360 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, leading to 4,020 deaths.
In Georgia, we have an even higher incidence rate than most other states. This is unfortunate, because cervical cancer is one of the only cancers we can actually prevent from occurring, meaning it should be an extraordinarily rare event. Even if not prevented, we can catch it before it becomes a dangerous cancer.
Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer have two common risk factors. The first is no Pap smear within the past 10 years.
Did you know women, regardless of insurance, can go to a county health department for a Pap smear, which screens for cervical cancer?
The second risk factor, which I believe can be affected with better education, is infection with the human papilloma virus. HPV infection, which affects women and men, can be prevented through the HPV cancer vaccine.
The HPV vaccine has been available for more than a decade; however, only 45 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys in Georgia have received the HPV vaccine. This is well below the 50th percentile for the United States.
When the vaccine was released, there was some unfounded, non-scientifically-based controversy. Some felt the vaccine encouraged early sexual activity. Others claimed the vaccine was not safe. Both arguments have been proven by multiple scientific studies to be false.
In fact, the HPV vaccine is one of the safest and most effective vaccines we have. It prevents many types of cancers affecting men and women, not just cervical cancer. It can also prevent some head and neck cancers, which are rising at alarming rates, as well as certain anal cancers.
Children and adolescents from the ages of 10 to 21 for males and 10 to 26 for females should be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine to prevent diseases. The vaccine is quite safe, relatively inexpensive and covered by insurance.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are making a concerted effort to increase the rate of vaccination throughout the country. I strongly encourage everyone with children and young adults to visit their pediatrician, family doctor or OB/GYN to request this vaccine.
Treatment for cervical cancer as well as the other HPV-caused cancers is not trivial. It often requires radical surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The HPV vaccine can prevent not only the need for treatment, but the need for other minor procedures. So, get your children vaccinated. It is safe, effective and may just save their lives.
Andrew E. Green, M.D., works at the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Gynecologic Oncology.