What you need to know about the HPV vaccine
No one likes being sick, but there’s not always a way to stop it. If you could prevent a disease—especially one that could cause cancer—would you take those steps?
About 9 in 10 people will get a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in their lives. Vaccines for HPV prevent health problems and protect against many kinds of cancer, but many people have questions or misconceptions about the vaccine. Here, we break down the fact vs. fiction of some of the most common concerns.
TRUE or FALSE: The HPV vaccine prevents cancer.
TRUE. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Every year in the United States, HPV causes 32,500 cancers in men and women. HPV vaccination can prevent most of the cancers—about 30,000—from ever developing.”
Most people know that HPV can cause cervical cancer in women. It can also cause numerous others, including cancers of the mouth and throat that affect both men and women. For women, screening is available and considered routine to detect most cases of cervical cancer. But there are not routine screenings for other types of HPV-related cancers, and these cancers can be painful, life-altering, and even life-threatening.
Vaccinating children and adolescents against HPV prevents them from developing these types of cancer, says Heather Pulaski, MD, Kettering Physician Network gynecologic oncologist. “The HPV vaccine is a cancer prevention vaccine.”
TRUE or FALSE: The HPV vaccine contains harmful ingredients.
FALSE. HPV vaccines do not contain live viral HPV quantities. The vaccine protects against nine different types of HPV, genital warts, and the HPV types found in over 75 percent of HPV-related cancer.
Some parents express concern about the aluminum in vaccines. “It is true that the HPV vaccine contains aluminum,” says Dr. Pulaski. “But it’s only about 0.5 mg per dose.” This is a safe amount; in fact, we come into contact with about 7-9 mg per day, when totaling up the amount contained in the foods we eat, the utensils we use, the water we drink, and even in breast milk.
TRUE or FALSE: The HPV vaccine has proven to be safe.
TRUE. The HPV vaccine is continually monitored by the CDC and FDA, and studies continue to show that the HPV vaccine is safe.
Like with any medication or injection, some side effects are possible. The most common ones for the HPV vaccine include pain and redness in the arm where the shot was administered, fever, dizziness, or nausea. However, the HPV vaccine does not increase risk for infertility, neurological conditions, autoimmune disorders, or venous thromboembolism. In fact, the HPV vaccine protects women from future fertility problems that are linked to cervical cancer.
TRUE or FALSE: It’s more important for girls to get the HPV vaccine than boys.
FALSE. The CDC recommendation is to vaccinate both girls and boys between the ages of 11-12. Vaccinating boys not only protects their future partners, but it also protects them against HPV-related cancers that specifically affect men, and types that affect both men and women. “The rates of HPV-related cancers that affect men are increasing,” says Dr. Pulaski. “Some projections show that by 2020, they may even outnumber the cases of cervical cancer.”
TRUE or FALSE: The HPV vaccine lasts for a long time—possibly forever.
TRUE. When children get the HPV vaccine, their bodies make antibodies that fight against the virus. Antibodies give strong and long-lasting protection, and there’s no evidence that this protection will decrease over time. “HPV vaccination is not treatment, but prevention,” says Dr. Pulaski. There is no waning effectiveness, so it protects children for their adult lives.
The current rate of completing HPV vaccination in the United States is only around 40 percent. However, in countries where the completion rate is 50 percent or higher, HPV prevalence goes down almost 70 percent.
“Studies show that countries that increase vaccination rates decrease cancer rates,” says Dr. Pulaski. “HPV vaccination is the best thing that can be done for protection.”
Talk to your physician.
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