A Shot at Lowering Cancer Risks

We’ve talked about it before, and now we’re going to shout it from the rooftops again: the HPV vaccine is not only a great way to prevent the STD HPV, but it also helps prevent several different cancers, which can develop from certain strains of the virus. Reduced risk of cancer, people! This is big news! Yet many Americans are choosing to skip the vaccines for a variety of reasons, and the rate of cancers (specifically cervical) has barely changed since the approval of these life-saving vaccines.

The HPV vaccines, called Gardasil and Cervarix, are currently recommended for all boys and girls ages 11 and 12. To create any sort of significant infection protection, approximately 80% of people need to be fully vaccinated, according to this article from Bloomberg, but only 1/3 of girls are fully vaccinated as of 2010.

If you’re wondering about what exact cancers these vaccines can help prevent, cancer.gov is a mighty fine resource: “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two HPV vaccines: Gardasil® for the prevention of cervical, anal, vulvar, and vaginal cancer, as well as precancerous lesions in these tissues and genital warts caused by HPV infection; and Cervarix® for the prevention of cervical cancer and precancerous cervical lesions caused by HPV infection. Both vaccines are highly effective in preventing infections with HPV types 16 and 18. Gardasil also prevents infection with HPV types 6 and 11. These vaccines have not been approved for prevention of penile or oropharyngeal cancer.”

Both versions of the vaccine involve three separate shots, which means three separate trips to the doc. Then there are some studies that suggest the shots can be rather uncomfortable (gulp). And to add insult to injury, since this particular vaccine is not required for school admission, many parents see it as an unnecessary expense of time and money, even though both brands of the shot are covered under the Affordable Care Act with no copay, coinsurance or deductible in Colorado. These factors combined are what experts correlate to the low current vaccination rate.

We bring all this up because HPV is the most common STD with at least 50% of sexually active people being infected at some point in their lives. It is also the virus that causes several kinds of cancer and uncomfortable genital warts—ick. So it’s easy to see how these vaccines can play a huge role in keeping you protected. Plus, the benefits extend far beyond STD-prevention—they could actually save your life.