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Human Papillomavirus Vaccines: What You Need to Know

MAR 11, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
Since the release of the first vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) in 2006, the world has seen ongoing controversy around whether or not parents should be vaccinating their children, however, research continues to show the effectiveness of the vaccines.
 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), genital HPV “is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.” HPV can infect the skin of the penis, vulva, linings of the vagina, cervix, and rectum, and it can also spread to the lining of the mouth and throat. Since the body’s immune system has the ability to fight off an HPV infection and rid the host of it within two years without presenting any symptoms, some people may be unaware that they are carriers. If the body is unable to alleviate itself of the virus within this timeframe, the infection can become high risk.
 
There is no test to detect whether an individual has the virus, however, researchers have discovered that there are currently 13 known high-risk HPV types which can cause cervical cancer. One of these types (16) can cause cancer to develop as oropharyngeal cancer, which affects the throat, base of the tongue, and the tonsils. Around 10% of women infected with high-risk HPV may develop cervical cancer, which does not display symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage, sometimes years after initial infection. According to the CDC, almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. But it doesn’t stop there: 69% of vulvar cancer cases are linked to HPV, as are 75% of vaginal cancer cases, 63 of penile cancer cases, 91% of anal cancer cases and 72% of oral cancer cases. The CDC reports that in 2012 12,042 women in the US were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,074 died of it in that year.
 
There are three FDA-approved three-dose HPV vaccines on the market:
  • Gardasil (targeted at HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18), approved in 2006 to help prevent anal, vaginal, and vulvar cancers that may develop, as well as genital warts and lesions—recommended for boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 26;
  • Cervarix (targeted at HPV types 16 and 18), approved in 2009, to help prevent cervical cancer and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia—recommended for girls between the ages of 9 and 25;
  • Gardasil 9 (targeted at HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58), approved in 2014, to help prevent cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancer, as well as precancerous or dysplastic lesions, genital warts, and intraepithelial neoplasia—recommended for boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 26.
A recent study accredits the effectiveness of the vaccines to the plummet in the number of HPV-related cancer diagnoses in the past two years, citing the drop of HPV types 6 and 11 prevalence from 11.5% prior to 2006 to just 4.3% in recent years. Similarly, the study noted the drop of HPV types 16 and 18 prevalence from 7.1% prior to 2006 to 2.8% due to vaccines in recent years. Although many parents are still uncertain about whether or not they should be discussing the repercussions of a sexually transmitted diseases with their children, it is important to note the significance of the vaccines and what they entail.
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