Vaccine reduces risk of cervical cancer

Gardasil® is a relatively new vaccine that has received a lot of attention from the media, so many parents ask me about it. The American Academy of Pediatrics says giving ‘tweens and teens the human papillomavirus vaccine called Gardasil® before they are sexually active and exposed to genital human papillomavirus (HPV) can cut the risk of cervical cancer by 70 percent.  With stakes this high, I believe it’s important to vaccinate your daughters.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions I hear from parents:

What is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. There are more than 100 types of HPV virus, 40 of which infect the genital tract. This virus causes genital warts and more than 99 percent of all cases of cervical cancer. It’s also been linked to warts and cancer in the throat – even in infants. Gardasil targets four types of the HPV virus – the two types of virus that cause the majority of cervical cancer cases in the U.S. and the two types that cause the majority of genital warts in the U.S.

Why is the vaccine recommended for tweens and teens?
Within the first year of becoming sexually active, more than 50 percent of people are infected with HPV. The vaccine is most effective in girls before they become sexually active. If given before sexual contact, it can prevent almost 100 percent of disease caused by the four types of HPV that the vaccine targets. It also can be given to females who have been sexually active or who already have HPV infection or cervical cancer. Vaccination with Gardasil has not been shown to increase the likelihood that a teen will have sex.

Which age group is recommended for the vaccine?
Girls and women ages 9 to 26 are encouraged to receive Gardasil, which is given in a series of three injections over a six-month period.  It can be given at the same time as other vaccines. The FDA is considering immunization of women older than 26. Studies indicate that the vaccine will provide lifelong immunity, so a booster dose isn’t recommended at this time.

Why can’t boys receive the vaccine?
The FDA has approved the vaccine only for girls, but studies are being done to look at the effectiveness of the vaccine in males as well. If approved for use in males, it will have the benefit of preventing some types of throat cancer and decreasing the spread of HPV to females.

Are there any side affects from receiving the vaccine?
There may be minor side affects from the vaccine such as local irritation, pain, fever or fainting. Patients are watched for signs of fainting after the vaccine is injected. The FDA will continue to watch for unusual or severe problems caused by the HPV vaccine, as they do with all vaccines. A recent surveillance report was published in June 2009

– Sarah Lerand, MD, MPH, is an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Society for Adolescent Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She also serves as co-chair of the Wisconsin Academy of Pediatrics Adolescent Medicine subcommittee. Her current research project is to study the acceptability of human papillomavirus vaccination in children with developmental disabilities.

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