Cancer Prevention – Give it a Shot!

posted by Colette Rossiter on Wednesday, January 16, 2019

You’ve likely heard of the HPV vaccine.  It is one of three adolescent vaccinations recommended between the ages of 11 and 12 (Tdap and Meningococcal are the others).  But do you really understand what HPV is and why the vaccine is so strongly recommended for cancer prevention?

Let me set the stage by reviewing some facts and figures.  Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infects about 14 million people each year.  HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.  It’s the leading cause of cervical cancer in women, and a contributing factor to other oral and genital cancers in men and women.  About 42,700 HPV-associated cancers occur in the United States each year.  Nearly 13,000 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed annually, and more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer every year.  In addition, approximately 11,500 HPV-associated cancers occur in men each year.

“If there were a vaccine for cancer, wouldn’t you get it for your kids?”  I’ll bet you’ve seen the ads on TV, billboards, and flyers encouraging parents to get their pre-teens vaccinated against HPV. Yet with all the promotion, facts, and staggering statistics we continue to see this vaccine underutilized.  Only 49% of U.S teens and 54% of Iowa teens have completed the HPV vaccination series.  In Clay County, our HPV vaccination rates have risen every year as parents become more informed about this important vaccine.    Even so, our current rate of teens completing the HPV series is just 47%. Knowing that most of the HPV infections that cause cancer can be prevented with vaccination, we can and should do better!

The HPV vaccine is safe.  Millions of doses have been given since the vaccine was approved in 2006.  And it’s reassuring to have a safety record supported by over 10 years of monitoring and research.  The vaccine is effective.  Ongoing research is showing that fewer women are developing cervical precancers  (abnormal cells on the cervix that can lead to cancer).  Also, it’s important to remember that the vaccine is most effective when given at age 11-12 when the immune response is highest and before exposure to the virus occurs. 

If you are the parent of a 6th or 11th grader in a Clay County school, watch for an upcoming opportunity for your child to get adolescent vaccinations (Tdap, Meningococcal, and HPV) at school this spring.  And if your pre-teen missed that 11-12 year old window for vaccination, it’s not too late!  Even though HPV vaccine is most effective in pre-teens, it can still be given through age 26 in females and through age 21 in males.  HPV vaccinations are available locally at Spencer Hospital Clay County Public Health (712-264-6685) or Avera Medical Group Spencer (712-264-3500).

So here’s the bottom line; HPV vaccination provides safe, effective, and long-lasting protection against cancers caused by HPV.   Vaccinating kids now protects them from cancer later!

Our immunization nurses would be happy to visit with anyone having questions about the HPV vaccine.  You can reach them by calling 712-264-6380. To learn more about HPV and other adolescent vaccinations visit the CDC's website.

About The Author

Colette Rossiter

Colette Rossiter, serves as assistant director for Spencer Hospital Community Health Services and Clay County Public Health. Colette has enjoyed the variety of responsibilities her nursing career has provided, yet has a passion for public health and safety.