Jun 27, 2013
Since the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was first introduced in 2006 as part of a nationwide public health campaign targeted at teenage girls, the prevalence of vaccine-type HPV infection among girls ages 14 to 19 has decreased 56 percent, according to a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This sharp drop in infection rates is being heralded as proof of the vaccine’s efficacy, and a big step in reducing rates of cervical cancer, which is typically caused by HPV.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. — about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people become newly infected each year, according to the CDC. While there are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas, mouth and throat, the HPV vaccine specifically protects against HPV types 16 and 18 — the two types that cause most HPV-related cancers. In the U.S., about 19,000 HPV-caused cancers occur in women and about 8,000 HPV-caused cancers occur in men each year. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by HPV among women and oropharyngeal cancers, or throat cancers, are the most common among men.
According to researchers, this study shows that the HPV vaccine is effective in preventing the spread of vaccine-type HPV and should encourage an increase in future vaccine rates. Currently, only one third of girls ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. have been vaccinated. That rate is very low compared to other countries, such as Demark, Britain and Rwanda, where vaccination rates are at 80 percent or higher.
“Our low vaccination rates represent 50,000 preventable tragedies — 50,000 girls alive today will develop cervical cancer over their lifetime that would have been prevented if we reach 80 percent vaccination rates,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said in a press release. “For every year we delay in doing so, another 4,400 girls will develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes.”
Other cancers caused by HPV include vaginal, vulvar, penile and anal cancers. Certain types of HPV can also cause warts in the genital area or the throat. Many of these cancers and conditions can be prevented with the HPV vaccine. There are two types of HPV vaccines available: Gardasil and Cervarix. While both vaccines protect against diseases caused by HPV types 16 and 18, only Gardasil has been shown to protect against HPV types 6 and 11, which can cause genital warts in both females and males. Gardasil also protects against certain precancers and is the only HPV vaccine tested and licensed for use in males. Both vaccines require three doses within a recommended six-month period.
Based on the results of this study, health experts recommend routine HPV vaccination for boys and girls ages 11 to 12. Older teenagers and young adults are also encouraged to get the HPV vaccine. While HPV doesn’t always lead to health problems, it’s important that women get regular screening tests to detect any early signs of cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, regular dental checkups, in which the doctor examines the entire mouth, can help detect the early signs of oropharyngeal cancer in men. Frequency of testing for both men and women depend on age and health history, so talk to your doctor about the best HPV-prevention plan for you.
(Read more about the HPV vaccine here: http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html)
Did you get your HPV vaccine? How important do you think it is? Please share your comments!