The HPV vaccine: Why it’s so important
To beat cancer, it’s important to use every tool modern medicine provides. Tremendous strides have been made against cervical cancer thanks to screenings such as the Pap test, which detects precancerous cells caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) so they can be treated before they develop into cancer.
But wouldn’t it be better if there was a way to prevent people from contracting HPV in the first place? There is: getting yourself and your children vaccinated.
Everyone needs to think about HPV
HPV is VERY common
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. Almost 80 million Americans have the virus (both men and women), and most sexually-active people who haven’t been vaccinated will contract it at some point in their lives. Most people never develop any symptoms, and the body’s immune system naturally defeats between 80 and 90 percent of those infections.
But 99 percent of all cervical cancer is caused by HPV — 10,000 women this year will be diagnosed, and 4,000 will die from the disease. Thousands more will develop other cancers and illnesses from the virus. So even though most people who have HPV will never be affected themselves, it’s still a serious health issue.
When to get vaccinated
The HPV vaccine offers protection against the strains of the virus that cause around 90 percent of all cervical cancer cases. It also protects against strains that can cause genital warts and anal cancer.
But the vaccine doesn’t cure HPV or any of the illnesses associated with it. That’s why it’s important to get the vaccine, when possible, before becoming sexually active and being exposed to the virus.
The CDC recommends vaccination for
- Boys and girls at age 11-12 years, though they also say the vaccine can be beneficial up to the age of 26.
- People who have been sexually active can still find the vaccine helpful because they may not have been exposed to all the various strains of the virus that the vaccine protects against.
Thanks to early screening and treatment, the mortality rate for cervical cancer has fallen 50 percent in the last 30 years, and it’s now the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent. Getting the HPV vaccine is a safe, simple way to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer and other illnesses.