With cancers linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) on the rise, the medical community is urging parents to vaccinate their children.
All 69 National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers recently issued a joint statement to support revised Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
In the United States each year, there are about 39,000 cases of HPV-linked cancers — a number that continues to increase.
The HPV vaccine can prevent most cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat), and other genital cancers.
However, only about 42 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys are vaccinated.
The new CDC guidelines say children who are now under 15 years of age should get two doses of the 9-valent HPV vaccine. The doses should be administered at least six months apart.
CDC officials say adolescents and young adults who are now older than 14 years of age should continue to complete a series of three doses.
Standing in the way
A 2015 study concluded that physicians are not urging teens to get the HPV vaccination, and parents do not understand its necessity.
Dr. Nanette Santoro, a professor, and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said that many parents believe that cervical cancer only occurs in young women who are promiscuous.
“Many parents are not fully aware, no matter how great they feel their communication is with their child, of the extent of their child's sexual activity and interest,” Santoro told Healthline. “They may feel that they have control over their child's actions, but the fact of the matter is that they do not.”
“It takes one infected partner to transmit HPV, and if it is a high-grade HPV, it can cause a great deal of mischief,” Santoro added.
Other parents think that the vaccine is harmful, but it’s “extremely safe” and “worth the risk of a reaction, which is extremely rare,” she added.
“Parents rely heavily on the recommendations of their child’s healthcare provider for appropriate vaccination, and the medical community is not recommending the HPV vaccine like they do other public health prevention vaccines,” said Electra Paskett, associate director for population sciences at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, in a statement.
“This represents the number one barrier to HPV vaccination and must change to reduce the burden of HPV-associated cancers in our community,” Paskett added.
“The HPV vaccine has nothing to do with sex. It’s all about preventing cancer,” Paskett noted.
“If everyone was vaccinated, we might have a chance to eliminate cervical cancer deaths in our lifetime,” Santoro added.
Knowing all the risks
Dr. Felice L. Gersh, a California-based gynecologist, told Healthline that HPV strains aren’t new.
“What is, in fact, new is the reduced normal functioning of the immune systems of people,” she said.
She said the increase in HPV-related cancers and decline in immune health has a lot to do with nutrition.
Gersh recommends that doctors and parents focus on a child’s health and immune needs.
She said most women will not benefit from the vaccine because it clears from their system. She added there can be other side effects from the vaccine such as premature menopause.
Those factors need to be weighed against the potential benefits that the vaccine can provide.
“All parents should be informed of this risk in order to have proper informed consent,” she said.
“I believe this isn't happening and absolutely must,” she added. “Many parents will opt for the vaccine, and some will not. The critical thing is for the dialogue to occur. All doctors caring for young people must enter into this conversation with parents.”