Lance Robbins, DO
Holy Rosary Healthcare Clinic
If you could be vaccinated against cancer, would you do it?
For most of us, the answer is fairly simple: of course. And yet a vaccination known to target the virus that protects against cancer is a difficult topic in many Montana households.
January is cervical cancer prevention month, a disease that was once a major cause of death among American women. The advent of cervical testing (Pap smears) led to a more than 60% decline of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Today, over 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually.
While there are risk factors for any type of cancer, including cancer of the cervix, the most significant is the human papillomavirus or HPV. The American Cancer Society reports that HPV is far from merely a single virus—it is a group of more than 150. While HPV is often transmitted through sexual contact, not all HPV is sexually transmitted. The impact of HPV impact is felt by men and women alike, as it is linked not only cervical cancer but also cancer of the mouth and throat, among others.
It's also important to note that HPV is a common virus; in fact, more than 14 million American get a new HPV infection every year. Thanks to the miracle of the human immune system, many HPV infections go away on their own, with no resulting symptoms or health problems. For more than 33,700 people a year, however, HPV causes cancer. Studies indicate that nearly all of them could be prevented with vaccination.
Currently, it is recommended that all children begin receiving the HPV vaccine series at age 11 or 12, but vaccines can be given to older teens and adults. In October 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for use in men and women through the age of 45. Two doses are needed for children age 11-14; three doses are required for those 15 and older.
But is it truly effective? Clinical data available through the CDC points to yes.
The first HPV vaccine was introduced more than a decade ago after clinical trials showed that it provided close to a 100% protection against precancers and genital warts. Since that time, there has been a drop of more than 60% in vaccine-preventable HPV infections among teenage girls in the U.S. alone. In countries with higher levels of HPV vaccination, even larger decreases have been reported.
Statistics aside, the decision on whether and when to vaccinate a child remains a personal choice among and between parents. For many, the HPV vaccine, in particular, comes with a different type of emotion given personal and/or religious views relating to sexual activity outside of marriage. That’s why I—along with many of my colleagues—encourage parents to discuss HPV with their own healthcare provider to get the facts about the disease and learn more about the vaccine. That way they’ll have all the information needed to make the best decision for themselves and their family.
Born and raised on a cattle ranch in Winifred, Lance Robbins, DO is passionate about providing care in rural Montana for both internal medicine and pediatrics. He has a clinical interest in preventive care, asthma, coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Robbins at Holy Rosary Healthcare Clinic by calling 406-233-2500.