By Jessica Mondani, DO
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a known cause of cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancer in females, penile cancer in males, and anal and oropharyngeal cancer in both males and females. While there are approximately 100 types of HPV, about 40 infect the genital area. Of those, types 16 and 18 are responsible for 60% of HPV related cancer, and types 6 and 11 cause 90% of anogenital warts.
So if there is a vaccine that can potentially protect our children against cancer, then why are immunization rates so low? There are many theories, including parental concerns that it may lead to experimentation with sex at a younger age or promote unsafe sex, cost of the vaccine, and difficulty getting patients in this age group to come in for appointments. One of the more concerning theories is that physicians are not recommending it as strongly as the other routine adolescent vaccines.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US with more than 14 million people affected. Each year, about 33,000 new cases of cancer are found in parts of the body where human papillomavirus is often found. HPV causes about 26,800 of these cancers (see table and figure from CDC http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/cases.htm). It is our responsibility as physicians to stress the importance of the HPV vaccine to parents and adolescents as a tool to prevent multiple cancers.