A number of parents still have reservations about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for their young son or daughter. Now, a new study convincingly shows the vaccine — which is given to young people before they’re sexually active — appears more effective in protecting against certain cancers than even originally thought.
After eight years of use, the vaccination has reduced the incidence of abnormal cell growth, including pre-cancers, by about 50 percent. Kids are protected even if they only get one or two of the recommended three doses of the vaccine, the study found.
Kids are protected even if they only get one or two of the recommended doses of the vaccine.
The vaccine has been found to protect against more types of HPV than originally planned, according to lead researcher Cosette Wheeler, professor of pathology and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque. The report was published online Sept. 29 in the journal JAMA Oncology.
Wheeler and her colleagues collected data from young women who tested for cervical cancer with Pap tests from 2007 to 2014, and who were part of the New Mexico HPV Pap Registry. The new study is not the first report to show the effectiveness of the vaccine — but it is the first to show declines in precancerous lesions across a large population.
In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can cause genital warts in men and women, and some head and neck cancers as well. It’s recommended that kids receive the series of shots before their 13th birthday.
“HPV is an epidemic and highly contagious sexually transmitted infection (STI) known to cause precancerous and cancer changes in the cervix, anus, penis, head, neck, and throat,” said Sherry Ross, M.D., OB/GYN and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California.
“The real beauty of any vaccine is when taken as directed it can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of women and men for generations to come,” Ross told LifeZette.
- 11,955 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013
- 4,217 women in the U.S. died from cervical cancer that same year
For parents who have concerns, Ross said the HPV vaccine has a very safe track record. “Gardasil 9, the most recent HPV vaccine, can prevent 90 percent of the HPV high-risk types [of cancer]. Most side effects are mild such as pain, redness, and soreness in the arm where the shot was given. Other mild side effects include fainting, dizziness, fever, headache, nausea, and muscle or joint pain. These minor side effects are worth the risk since the HPV vaccine may prevent cervical cancer.”
Cervical cancer is still the second most common cancer in women worldwide. In the U.S. it was one of the most common killers 50 years ago, but it’s now 14th on the list. The reduction is largely due to screening with the Pap test, and now by screening for HPV, according to Steve Vasilev, M.D. He is medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and a professor at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California.
“With cervical cancer, nothing comes close to the impact of HPV vaccination,” said one oncologist.
“Now, with an effective vaccine against HPV, we are in a position to all but eliminate this disease. Keep in mind the newer-generation HPV vaccines will likely be even more effective because they protect against more forms of the virus,” Vasilev said.
Protection from HPV is also coming from what’s called herd immunity, which increases as more people are vaccinated. This, too, reduces the spread of HPV.
“As the only quadruple board-certified integrative gynecologic oncologist in the country, I am always on the lookout for natural means to prevent diseases such as cancer. In the case of cervical cancer, other than complete avoidance of sexual contact, dietary factors such as folate, lycopenes, and other nutrients can help,” said Vasilev. “However, based on this study, nothing comes close to the impact of HPV vaccination.”