Every year after Thanksgiving, my parents have a reunion with their college friends. They spend the evening together, and have dinner before heading home on Sunday. Last year, one of my mom’s friends said she had lost 15 pounds over the past year. She was happy to have gone down by a clothing size, and thought the weight loss was because of stress.
We later found out she did not lose weight because of stress. She had advanced cervical cancer, which was caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 80% of sexually active people will be infected with high risk strains of HPV. Some people develop symptoms, though most people do not. Most people’s bodies will clear these infections, but for a small percent of people the infection will stay around. When this happens, it can cause cancer of the cervix part of the uterus or womb), vagina, penis, anus, and even the throat. Every year in the U.S., HPV causes 33,700 cancers. The HPV vaccine can prevent HPV infection and therefore stop most of these cancers from developing.
After hearing the story of my mom’s friend, I decided the most important thing I could do was to make sure her son got vaccinated. When I suggested the vaccine to the boy’s father, he replied that he thought “the vaccine is only for girls.” That is definitely not true! The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for girls and boys starting at age 11.
I gave the dad some key talking points he could use when talking with his son:
- Both boys and girls may develop HPV infections, so both need to be protected.
- Just like other childhood vaccines, the vaccine is recommended before a person is likely to be exposed to the HPV virus. It is recommended during the preteen years.
- Another reason the HPV vaccine is recommended in the preteen years is because the body responds best to it at younger ages.
- There was no vaccine when your mother was your age. If there was, it may have helped her to avoid getting cancer.
I believe most things in life happen for a reason. Everyone should have a chance at a long and happy life with their loved ones and not have their life cut short by something that is totally preventable. I was proud that I could help my mom’s friend and his son. By busting myths about the HPV vaccination, thousands of cases of cancer each year can be prevented.
To learn more about how you can vaccinate your teen against HPV contact your health care provider to make an appointment!