My cancer is one of the very few types that have a known, direct cause: Human Papillomavirus or HPV. Most people are infected with HPV at least once in their lifetime. Most infections clear on their own. Some infections don't, and uncleared infections with certain strains of the virus turn into cancer. It's the primary cause of cervical cancer. It's also becoming the leading cause of oral cancers like mine.
Since 2006, we have had a vaccine for HPV. It is the only cancer vaccine we have. The CDC recommends that all children aged 11-12 be vaccinated. Vaccinations are recommended for women up to age 29 and men up to age 21.
Vaccination rates are still way too low. Here are the latest stats from the CDC:
In 2015, among males, coverage with ≥1 HPV vaccine dose was 49.8% and with ≥3 doses was 28.1%; among females coverage with ≥1 dose was 62.8% and with ≥3 doses was 41.9%
Even at those disappointing vaccination rates, the vaccine is already having an impact:
HPV vaccine is having a big impact, study shows (CBS News, February 22, 2016)
More evidence that the HPV vaccine works (Incidental Economist, October 11, 2016)
Ultimately, if every teen were vaccinated, almost all cervical cancers and many oral cancers would disappear. Pap smears would become either unnecessary or at least recommended at longer intervals. That's already starting to happen.
Cervical cancer screening could be less frequent, start later (Harvard Gazette, October 17, 2016)
In studies investigating why vaccination rates are low, the number one reason given by parents is "my pediatrician didn't recommend it." The number one reason pediatricians give for not recommending the vaccination is discomfort discussing sexuality with parents. There are now focused efforts to boost pediatrician recommendations by shifting the focus from sex to cancer.
Cancer doctors leading campaign to boost use of HPV vaccine (Washington Post, June 19, 2016)
Another obstacle to vaccination is the original requirement for three doses spaced over six months. This required three trips to the pediatrician, and many kids were not completing the series. But that also provided populations of partially-vaccinated kids for research on whether fewer doses were sufficient. Based on that research, the CDC this week changed the recommendation to just two doses spaced six to twelve months apart if the vaccinations are given before age 15. This is expected to help increase vaccination rates.
CDC now recommends just two HPV vaccine doses for preteens (Washington Post, October 19, 2016)
Finally, Merck, the maker of Guardasil (the HPV vaccine) has just started running a commercial to guilt-trip parents into getting their kids vaccinated.
Do the new Merck HPV ads guilt-trip parents or tell hard truths? Both. (Washington Post, August 11, 2016)
If you are a parent of a child or adolescent, it is also my purpose here to guilt trip you. With a very simple action on your part, you can, with almost 100% certainty, prevent your child from every developing cervical or HPV-related oral cancer.
My 12-year-old received her three-dose series earlier this year. My 10-year-old will get vaccinated next year.
What possible legitimate reason could you have for not providing your children with this protection?