HPV, the human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost all sexually active men ad women contract HPV at some point in their lives; most cases of HPV resolve without issue, but some individuals do develop complications–like cervical cancer.
Though cervical cancer affects fewer women than it used to in the U.S., more than 11,000 new cases are still reported annually. The cancer is difficult to detect due to a lack of symptoms, thus cervical cancer remains one of the most deadly female cancers known.
Its primary cause is HPV.
“Certain HPV types are classified as “high-risk” because they lead to abnormal cell changes and can cause genital cancers: cervical cancer as well as cancer of the vulva, anus, and penis,” indicates WebMD. “In fact, researchers say that virtually all cervical cancers — more than 99 percent — are caused by these high-risk HPV viruses. The most common of the high-risk strains of HPV are types 16 and 18, which cause about 70 percent of all cervical cancers.”
The HPV vaccine
Because the majority of young women and men will eventually become sexually active, it made sense for the medical community to work toward a vaccine against HPV.
A product has now been available since 2006, but even with media attention and outreach programs, the CDC indicates vaccination numbers are nowhere near what they should be.
In a new study, the CDC indicates 2013 statistics show 57.3 percent of girls between ages 13 and 17 received one or more doses of the HPV vaccine. Only 37.6 received the recommended series of three doses; among boys, 34.6 percent received at least one dose and only 13.9 received the recommended three doses.
Though these numbers are up from the 2012 time period, they are not where the CDC wants them to be. Who is to blame? Physicians, according to the study authors.
“The high coverage rate of Tdap vaccine shows us that it is certainly possible to reach our goal of vaccinating 80 percent of adolescents against cancers caused by HPV,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement. “Pediatricians and family physicians are uniquely situated to prevent missed opportunities by giving HPV vaccine during the same visit they give Tdap and meningococcal vaccines.”
Not receiving a doctor’s recommendation was the number one out of five reasons cited for why parents didn’t have their teenagers vaccinated against HPV. The second and third reasons had to do with lack of information regarding the vaccine and fears about its safety margins. Many parents also still felt the vaccine was unnecessary, and a small percentage felt their child was not sexually active ad therefore didn’t need the vaccine.
“Doctors need to step up their efforts by talking to parents about the importance of HPV vaccine just as they do other vaccines and ensure its given at every opportunity, said Dr. Thomas McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics in a statement to NBC News. Parents need reassurance that HPV vaccine is recommended at 11 or 12 because it should be given well in advance of any sexual activity.”