The vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, provides pre-teens and teenagers with a safe and effective prevention of some cancers that can be traumatic, according to three Gainesville medical professionals at a forum on the subject Thursday.
“This vaccine is not a sex vaccine; it is a cancer vaccine,” said Dr. Andrew Green, a gynecological oncologist who specializes in cancer of the cervix, uterus and ovary, at a the monthly WomenSource Power Lunch on Brenau University’s downtown campus.
“If you (end up at) my office, you’ve missed the boat and that’s a bad thing,” he added.
Other members on the panel were Dr. Cindy Fulenwider Greene, a board-certified dentist at BGW Dental Group who has advanced training related to detection and treatment of oral cancer; and Dr. Katie Herzog, a pediatrician with The Longstreet Clinic.
HPV vaccines have faced criticism over the years that they are not safe, can cause harmful side effects and promote sexual promiscuity.
Green said said those concerns are unfounded.
“It is a safe vaccine; it has been proven over and over and over,” he said. “It is an effective vaccine. We are already starting to see pap smear rates drop in women in late 20s and early 30s. There’s even some data saying the heart attack rate may be lower in people who got the vaccine.”
Herzog agreed saying that she recommends boys and girls getting the vaccine at 11 when they are also usually getting a tetanus booster shot and a vaccine for meningitis, but at least by age 18. Two shots are required for the HPV vaccine before age 15, while those who get the vaccine at age 15 or over will get three shots, according to Herzog.
While saying that studies have shown the vaccine is safe, she also said she does not believe the vaccine increases sexual promiscuity.
“That seriously overestimates the reasoning power of a teenager,” Herzog said. “There have been studies on it and that’s just not the case.”
Greene said she has seen in her work as a dentist that HPV causes head and neck cancers in areas such as the larynx, tonsils and tongue.
“I’ve been out of school for over 12 years now and I’ve really seen a drastic, drastic difference in increase of incidents of head and neck cancers,” she said. “Historically when you had a patient diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, you would think of a patient that had heavy alcohol consumption, smokeless tobacco use and smoking cigarettes as part of everyday life. Eighty percent of our head and neck cancers now are HPV related. We’re really struggling in the dental community as to how to educate our patients on these.”
She added that while HPV is often associated with cancers in women, 66 percent of people diagnosed with head and neck cancers diagnoses due to HPV “are males around age 55.” “That really gives us a different way of thinking,” Greene said.
WomenSource holds the monthly Power Lunches to help women learn about various issues and trends.