The HPV Vaccine: What Have We Learned?

Released: 12-Jan-2010 3:45 PM EST
Source Newsroom: University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
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Newswise — In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine for girls and women ages 9 to 26. As part of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in January, experts at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center review what we have learned about this controversial vaccine in the past four years.

“Even though the vaccine has been around for some time now, reports show that some teenage girls are still not getting it,” said Helen E. Rhodes, M.D., associate professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology. “This is unfortunate because the vaccine covers several forms of the virus that cause more than half of cervical cancers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about a quarter of teenage girls got the first vaccine shot in 2007. This number increased a little in 2008.

Rhodes suggests that possible factors that may be preventing parents from vaccinating their daughters include:

* Fears that the vaccine may promote sexual activity
* Concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine
* Little knowledge about HPV and the vaccine
* No insurance coverage or not being able to get help to pay for the vaccine
* Their doctor did not recommend having the vaccine

Vaccine still works after four years

“Presently, one of the major controversies is how long the vaccine will stay effective,” Rhodes said. “While the exact length of time is questionable, we do know is that the vaccine is sill effective in girls and women who got the first available vaccination series in 2006.”

Doctors don’t yet know whether this group will eventually need a booster shot. However, they are still following the girls and women who were a part of the first studies to learn more about the long-term effectiveness of this vaccine.

Boys and men can get the vaccine too

In October 2009, the FDA approved the HPV vaccine for use in boys and men ages 9 to 26. They found that the vaccine safely protects males from genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11. Each year, doctors detect genital warts in about two out of every 1,000 men in the United States, says the CDC.

“At this time, M. D. Anderson has no recommendations for boys and men since the HPV vaccine only prevents genital warts in this group and not cancer,” Rhodes said. “Nonetheless, the possibility does exist that vaccinating boys and men may reduce the transmission of HPV in women.”

Getting your child vaccinated is a personal decision

Some parents may be reluctant to vaccinate their children against a sexually transmitted infection for fear of promoting sexual activity.

“There's lots of data to show there's really no relationship between vaccinating your child against a sexually transmitted infection and onset of early sexual behavior,” Rhodes said. “All of our children will be sexually active and exposed to HPV at some point in their life. So as a parent, getting them vaccinated is something you can do to protect them from infection of HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18.”

Rhodes shares additional advice for parents trying to decide if the HPV vaccine is right for their child in the attached audio clip.

Whatever the decision, to vaccinate or not, getting the vaccine is a personal decision that should be made based on facts. For additional information, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.

M. D. Anderson expert available for interview:

Helen E. Rhodes, M.D., Associate Professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology
Rhodes’ focuses on providing consultative gynecological care for women being treated for non-gynecological malignancies as well as providing care for women diagnosed with pre-invasive gynecological diseases. Her surgical practice focuses on the use of minimally invasive surgical techniques.


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