Dr. Leigh Vinocur is a board certified emergency physician and national spokesperson for the America …
It is probably one of the most significant medical breakthroughs of this past decade. A vaccine to prevent cancer! We now better understand the link between cancers and viruses and how some viruses such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) can change cells and cause them to become cancerous. In essence we have identified a communicable form of cancer.
HPV is often a sexually transmitted disease, which according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is very common and it infects about 6 million people a year. It’s estimated that 50 percent of sexually active men and women have been exposed at some point in their lives. There are hundreds of strains of HPV; about 30 to 40 of the strains are sexually transmitted. In the majority of the infections our body’s immune system takes care of it without any treatment. However some of these sexually transmitted infections can cause cervical cancer. It’s the high-risk strains the virus that remain in the body and cause a long-term infections. It then invades the cells of the cervix causing changes in the cellular structure and DNA to become pre-cancerous lesions as well as cause genital warts. If these infections aren’t detected and treated they can go on to eventually become an invasive cervical cancer.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 12,200 women in the United States will be diagnosed with this type of cancer and nearly 4,200 women will die from it. Worldwide cervical cancer strikes nearly half a million women each year killing almost a 250,000.
But we now have developed a monumental vaccine that protects against the common HPV strains that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. HPV has also been recently linked to 26 percent of head and neck cancers as well as some vulvar, vaginal, penile and rectal cancers. This discovery has opened a new door for prevention of cancer.
Yet, an alarming new study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine finds sadly very few young women are protecting themselves from cancer and taking this precaution of the HPV vaccine. This study led by Dr. J. Kathleen Tracy found that less 30 percent of young women eligible for the vaccine will chose to get it. Added to that, of the women who do initiate getting vaccinated less than one-third complete the series of three booster shots required for full protection of the virus. This was even more of an issue with young African-American women who were the least likely to complete the series of shots.