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Nobody wants cancer. That is why one of the main interests in cancer research is prevention. If we know what causes a particular cancer, we have a better chance of preventing it.
Now we know following cancers are caused by the virus called HPV, or human papilloma virus:
+ Cervical cancer — almost all are due to HPV.
+ Cancer of the vulva — about 50 percent are linked to HPV.
+ Cancer of the vagina — about 65 percent are linked to HPV.
+ Cancer of the anus — about 95 percent are linked to HPV.
+ Mouth cancers (this includes cancer of the back of the throat and tonsils) — about 60 percent are linked to HPV.
+ Cancer of penis — about 35 percent are linked to HPV.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide. Three-quarters of the general population become infected, and three-quarters of those infections occur at 15 to 24 years of age. Moreover, more than 50 percent of those who become infected do so within two years after becoming sexually active.
A vaccine against the HPV virus is already approved and widely available in the United States. It is recommended in women to prevent cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer or genital warts.
HPV also causes anal, penile and oral cancers, and these cancers can happen in men. So the vaccine should be given to both young girls and boys before they become sexually active. Currently, the vaccine is approved only for girls.
Indeed, one-third of all HPV-related cancers occur in men, not in women, which is one reason that last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended routine HPV vaccination for 11- to 12-year-old boys, as is already the case for girls of the same age. Also, protecting boys will secondarily increase protection against cervical cancer in girls.
Remember, HPV infection is sexually transmitted. It takes years or decades after initial infection before that patient develops cancer. It takes only a few months to develop genital warts after infection. The cost of treatment is $300 to $1,000 per each case of genital warts. At the same time, recurrences after treatment are common.
Dr. Myron J. Levin highlighted landmark research from Australia demonstrating the profound impact widespread adoption of the HPV vaccine can have at the population level. Australia was the first country to fund a vaccination program for all females ages 12 to 26 years, starting in July 2007.
A national surveillance program demonstrated a 59 percent reduction in new diagnoses of genital warts among women eligible for the free vaccine during the first two years after the program started.
In short, I recommend that the vaccine against HPV should be given to both girls and boys and preferably before they become sexually active.
Information for this article was taken from a report by Bruce Jancin for the Oncology Report Digital Network.
Dr. Sunil Gandhi is a hematologist and oncologist. He is volunteer medical adviser of the Citrus Unit of American Cancer Society. Write to 521 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 352-746-0707.