We now know that infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is what causes almost all cases (99%) of cervical cancer. Fortunately, there is a primary prevention option available to fight this disease…the HPV vaccine. Two FDA approved vaccines are available in the U.S. targeting the most common strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer.
The CDC estimates that approximately 27,000 cancers (including the cervix, vagina, and vulva) are related to HPV each year. Unfortunately, many women are reluctant to get the vaccine or are unaware of its availability. There has been some negative and false information reported about health risks associated with the HPV vaccines. The CDC has investigated ALL of these claims and found them to be unsubstantiated. In fact, the CDC has a vaccine registry designed to track side effects and outcomes to keep up with any health issues related to immunizations. So, hopefully, women will not be concerned about safety.
HPV immunization should begin, ideally, before beginning sexual activity. The CDC recommends immunizing girls and boys beginning at age 11 or 12. Most insurance carriers will pay for the series of 3 shots for women through age 26. Women can certainly request the vaccine at any age and regardless of previous sexual activity.
Women can take a big step forward in preventing reproductive system cancers by getting the HPV vaccine. As health advocates for the family, women take the lead in promoting healthy behaviors. I encourage all to seek immunization for yourself and your children.
Anne Moore is the Women’s Health Clinical Trainer for the Division of Family Health and Wellness, at the Tennessee Department of Health. Dr. Moore has authored numerous publications addressing women’s health care issues. She is an invited speaker nationally and internationally on topics related to the health of women.