A Look at the Increase in HPV Cancer Cases & the HPV Vaccine

HPV VaccineThe Annual Cancer Report

Time.com recently wrote about the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. The report shows the U.S. is making progress in controlling some tumors, but rates of human papillomavirus-related cancers remain high despite the FDA’s approval of the vaccine and the CDC’s subsequent vaccination guidelines.

The annual report is a collaboration between researchers at the CDC, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. Since 1998, it has provided a robust picture of the state of cancer in the U.S.

Overall, the report shows lower cancer rates in the U.S. among all genders and racial and ethnic groups for the most common cancers, including lung, colon, breast and prostate. But rates of HPV-related cancers, are elevated despite the fact that a vaccine exists to prevent the viral infection that can trigger the disease. The news comes in stark contrast to the overall cancer rates, which have been gradually declining during the past several decades.

The Vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine against HPV-related cancer, Gardasil, which protects against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains that can trigger cervical cancer and two of the most common HPV strains that cause genital warts, in 2006.

Gardasil prevents infection of four strains of HPV – the two strains (16, 18) that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases and the two strains (6, 11) that cause 90% of genital warts cases. The Cervarix vaccine, which is used more broadly in several countries outside the U.S., protects against two HPV strains, 16 and 18. Since neither vaccine protects against all types of cervical cancer-causing HPV strains, it is still recommended that women receive regular Pap tests after being vaccinated.

Barriers to Vaccination

Shortly after approval, the CDC, which sets immunization guidelines, added the HPV vaccine to its lineup of recommended childhood vaccinations, proposing that girls ages 11 to 12 be immunized against the sexually transmitted HPV before they became sexually active.

State health departments, which follow CDC guidelines, began mandating the shot for school entry, but parents balked. The so-called promiscuity vaccine, as they saw it, would only promote sexual activity and many refused to vaccinate their preteen children for a sexually transmitted disease. Their argument was that vaccination will make pre-teens feel a false sense of security when it comes to sex. Research shows that’s not case.

Due to immunization guidelines, women 21 and older often face cost barriers to receiving the vaccine. Under Medicaid – the primary form of coverage for low-income women – vaccines are considered an ‘optional’ benefit, which means that each state decides whether or not it will be a covered service. As of 2009, at least 28 states designate coverage for the HPV vaccine. For uninsured, low-income women, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline have established assistance programs to provide free vaccines. Generic versions of the vaccines are not projected to enter the market until 2015 or later.

Finally, multiple reports have surfaced warning against the vaccination’s health risks and side effects. Of which, more reports later came out debunking those claims in hopes the information had not already deterred those who would have otherwise been vaccinated.

Current Vaccination Rates

About 32 percent of girls aged 13 to 17 had taken all three doses of the vaccine as of 2010, a 64 percent increase (11.5 percentage points) from 2008. About two thirds of girls who took at least one dose of the vaccine finished the three-shot course. The Centers for Disease Control just recently recommended the HPV vaccine for men and boys, but does not yet have numbers on the percentage of boys vaccinated.

Comparatively, vaccination rates are much higher in Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia.

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Have you received the HPV vaccination? Did you experience side effects? Or have you been treated for cervical cancer? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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