I once asked a pediatrician if he vaccinates many boys for HPV, his response was alarming. He said he only has vaccinated a few and every single one of them had a doctor for a parent. As physicians we are clearly missing the mark. We know well enough to have our own children vaccinated, yet that message isn’t transmitting to our patients and their children. The HPV vaccine is available and does prevent cancer, so why aren’t we using it?
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. This is the most common sexually transmitted virus that is best known for causing genital warts. There are several genotypes (versions) of this virus, each with different risks. There is no cure for HPV, symptoms and cancer are treated, but you continue to carry the virus. In addition, we know that certain high-risk genotypes cause various forms of cancer, most notably is cervical cancer. But some how this message has only transmitted to females, but men are also at risk. Here is a breakdown of consequences for each sex:
- Cervical Cancer
- Vulvar/Vaginal Cancer
- Penile Cancer
Women and Men
- Genital Warts
- Anal Cancer
- Oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) Cancer
As you can see, this is not just a female disease! Can we just pause and reflect on the fact that there is a vaccine that prevents cancer?! This is huge and yet we are struggling to get the word out.
There seem to be 2 major hurdles we face. First is the anti-vaccination movement. As I said before, I will not attempt to convert anti-vaxxers to suddenly start vaccinating their children, I am not that naive.
Second, is that this is a disease associated with sexual activity. Parents have a hard time thinking about their children having sex one day. It is a fear that needs to be conquered because, like it or not, one day your child will have sex. And though you want them to wait until marriage and for their future spouse to have waited, you cannot guarantee this! Dealing with cancer therapy for your child is much more emotional and difficult than dealing with the fact that your child had sex.
And third, there have been reports and studies showing adverse events after administration of this vaccine. The problem with the majority of these studies is that they can’t prove causality, only correlation. Several large studies involving millions of girls show no increased risk of blood clots, multiple sclerosis, and other neurologic and autoimmune diseases.
We still have much work to do in this area, starting with getting the word out that this is available and beneficial to both men and women.
HPV Vaccine Schedule
Administer a 3-shot series between the ages of 11 and 12 in females and males at months 0, 1-2, and 6. A catch up series is available and similar to the initial schedule. The goal is to vaccinate prior to sexual exposure.