Wait… There’s a Cancer Vaccine?

This is a guest post from Fuck Cancer. Fuck Cancer is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit in the United States, and a registered Canadian charity, dedicated to early detection, prevention, and support for those affected by cancer. They work to change the way people think and talk about cancer,  through digital initiatives, programs, events, and funding research. Their ultimate goal is to improve health outcomes. To learn more, visit https://www.letsfcancer.com/ or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

Wait… There’s a Cancer Vaccine?

Yes, and it can prevent 30,000 cases of cancer every year in the U.S. alone. The vaccine has been on the market for the last 13 years, yet less than half of schoolchildren are fully immunized. So why aren’t we equipping our kids with proven cancer protection?

The cancer vaccine protects against most HPV-related cancers. HPV infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the USA, with 90% of sexually active adults becoming infected with at least one strain in their lifetimes. While most infections go away on their own, those that don’t can lead to cancer. HPV is responsible for 95% of anal cancers, 70% of cervical cancers, and 70% of oropharyngeal (middle of the throat) cancers.

In order for the vaccine to work, it must be received by an individual before HPV exposure. Accordingly, it’s important to vaccinate children before they are sexually active. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that the HPV cancer vaccine be administered to boys and girls at around 11 years old. Although the vaccine is less effective if it’s administered after an individual has become sexually active, the ACS asserts that it can still be useful for those under 26.

Since HPV-related cancers can occur without any symptoms, early vaccination is essential. Although cervical cancer can be detected with a Pap smear, there are no screening methods that allow for early detection for the majority of other HPV related cancers. As a result, these forms of cancer can often go undetected until they are further along, making them much harder to treat.

Because HPV can be transmitted through any kind of genital contact, the vaccine carries a heavy stigma. Parents have a hard time acknowledging that their child will be (or already is) sexually active. As a result, they forgo vaccination out of the fear that it could trigger an early onset of their child’s sexual activity. There’s no need for concern: children who receive the vaccine do not engage in sexual activity any earlier than their non-vaccinated peers.

Another common reason for resisting vaccination is the fear of negative side effects, like premature ovarian failure (POF) or decreased fertility. Fortunately, there’s no evidence for either. Vaccination can even help women avoid the fertility problems linked to cervical cancer, since treatment for this kind of cancer can make conception more difficult.

Finally, many Americans fail to vaccinate their children out of the worry that they cannot afford it. Good news: all state funded programs and all insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) cover HPV vaccines for children 18 and under.

There is something for parents to fear, which is their child joining the 32,000 Americans diagnosed with HPV-associated cancers annually. The vaccine provides strong protection against new HPV infections, but it cannot treat existing HPV infections, nor their associated cancers. So why risk waiting?

Join Fuck Cancer in saying not us! Not now. Not ever.