In a recent report released by the President's Cancer Panel, it has been stated that the United States is failing to protect its children from a number of preventable cancers by not vaccinating the young population against HPV. HPV, or Human papillomavirus, is the leading cause of cervical cancer and responsible for a large number of vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, and oropharyngeal cancers. It is also responsible for causing genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
It is believed that 80 million Americans are infected with at least one strain of HPV, though many will never develop a disease as a result of the infection. Infections are asymptomatic, typically not being diagnosed until genital warts or pre-cancerous lesions are found. Two vaccines on the market, Gardasil and Cervarix, can help protect against the virus, but many are not getting the vaccines needed to prevent infection. The vaccines, which must be administered by age 26 in both young men and women, is a series of three shots given over a 6 month period. The shots can begin as early as age 9 in females and 11 in males and are most effective when given before children become sexually active. Current vaccines have been found to prevent approximately 70% of cervical cancers. It is believed that future vaccines will prevent approximately 90%. Currently, only 33% of girls and 7% of boys have received all three vaccinations and are fully immunized in the U.S.
While some blame parents for not getting the vaccine for their children, it appears that doctors are to blame. One report from the CDC shows that "missed clinical opportunities" is the top reason for such low vaccination numbers.
One survey of parents of 11 to 17 year-old boys and girls found that among those who had not received HPV vaccines, 84 percent of boys and 79 percent of girls had had preventive care visits within the past 12 months. Many times, adolescents received other recommended vaccines at these visits but did not receive HPV vaccines. One report suggests that as many as two-thirds of 11 and 12 year-old vaccine-eligible girls may not be receiving HPV vaccines at visits at which they receive at least one other vaccine. (http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/HPV/Part3Goal1.htm...)
There may be a number of reasons why physicians fail to address the importance of the vaccinations, including a limited understanding of HPV associated diseases, benefits of HPV vaccination, safety concerns, personal beliefs, discomfort addressing the issue with both parents and children and parental resistance.
Steps are being taken to educate doctors fully regarding the vaccines, but until the medical profession fully embraces the HPV vaccine, parents will need to take a proactive step in their childrens' healthcare and request this protection against future cancer for their kids.