Prevent Cervical Cancer
While January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, most people still don't know that Cervical Cancer is largely preventable with early vaccines and screenings during well-woman visits. Start the new year off right with a check-up, and be sure to talk to your child's doctor about the HPV vaccines available for boys and girls.
What Parents Need to Know About the HPV Vaccine
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most commonly transmitted STD in the US, causing cancer in roughly 17,600 women and 9,300 men every year. Luckily, the HPV vaccine helps protect kids against HPV-related cancers indefinitely. And yet a 2016 report published in Pediatrics found that about 11 percent of pediatricians and family physicians surveyed never discuss the HPV vaccine with parents during the child's 11- or 12- year wellness visit – often because they expect the parents to refuse it.
If your child hasn’t been vaccinated against HPV, listen up:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children get the HPV vaccine starting at ages 11 or 12, regardless of sexual activity. We talked with Kari Harris, MD, a pediatrician at Wesley Pediatric Clinic and KU Wichita Pediatrics at the University of Kansas, to uncover why some parents might be reluctant about the vaccine – and why your child needs it.
Click the reasons below to learn more about HPV Vaccine myths:
Reality: “Ideally, you want to get the vaccine before there is even the potential for the child to be exposed to the virus, because there is a high chance they could get it from their first sexual encounter,” says Dr. Harris. Plus, according to the AAP, children who receive the HPV vaccine by age 15 have a higher immunity against the virus than older kids.
Reality: Unlike other vaccines, the HPV vaccine isn’t required to attend public school. However, the CDC does recommend that kids get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, just like the Tdap and meningitis vaccines.
Reality: The HPV virus was originally linked to cervical cancer, so the need for boys to get the vaccine may not have seemed so important at first. “Now we know that it causes many cancers that affect men as well, particularly oropharyngeal cancer," says Harris, who adds that the vaccination is equally important for boys and girls.
Reality: All three HPV vaccines -- Gardasil 9, Gardasil and Cervarix -- are considered safe by the CDC. In fact, 86 million doses of the vaccine were given between 2006 and 2015. Of those, only a miniscule number of people reported a serious reaction --but whether or not the vaccine actually caused these reactions is unclear, according to the CDC.
If your child hasn’t been vaccinated against HPV, don't wait for your doctor to bring it up. "Parents should just be proactive and ask their physician for it," says Harris. Worried that it’s too late? Young women can actually get vaccinated up until they are 26 years old, and young men can get the vaccine until they are 21.
Are you at risk?
In most cases, the HPV virus is harmless and causes no symptoms. In fact, many young women who become infected with HPV are able to clear the infection through their own immune systems. However, certain high-risk types of HPV can cause cervical lesions. Over time, these may develop into cancer if untreated. The Pap smear is used detect cancerous and precancerous cervical lesions. Unfortunately, the Pap smear has been associated with false negative results in some cases. In a false negative, the test indicates the pap smear is normal when, in fact, there is an abnormality. Women with abnormal results need further testing. The HPV test can be used in conjunction with the Pap test. The test determines the presence or absence of HPV and whether or not the HPV type present is the type that is associated with cancer.
General recommendations for cervical cancer screening:
- Between the ages of 21-65 years
- Stopping in women older than 65 with normal testing in the past 10 years
- Ages 21-29 years—Pap smear every three years without HPV testing
- Ages 30-65 years—Pap smear and HPV testing every five years or Pap smear alone every three years
Each woman has individual circumstances and risk factors. Talk to your doctor about how often you should be screened for cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Below are just a few symptoms to be on the lookout for or to discuss with your doctor at your next appointment:
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Abnormal, heavy, or irregular menstruation