Commentary: “Role of HPV Vaccine in Cancer Prevention”

On November 6, 2018, “The cancer-preventing HPV vaccine a dozen years on: Progress, fear, and loathing” ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“A dozen years after the debut of the HPV vaccine, its track record of warding off infections that cause cervical cancer and other malignancies keeps getting better.”

“But, ironically, this powerful cancer-prevention tool also faces growing fear and rejection, stoked by anti-vaccine activism.”

Below, Dr. David P. Warshal, Gynecologic Oncologist and Director of the Gynecologic Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, shares his comments on the release of this news.

Did you know that about 80 percent of people –both men and women – will get a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in their lives? HPV is spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact. While most cases are sexually transmitted, people who haven’t had intercourse can become infected. To learn more about the HPV vaccine, click here.

“The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine represents a true paradigm shift in how we approach cancer prevention. Unlike pap smears, colonoscopy, and mammography, which are screening tests that detect precancerous changes or cancers in their early stages when they are more amenable to treatment, the vaccine prevents the development of HPV-associated pre-cancers and cancers. The presence of HPV is necessary for the development of up to 99 percent of cervical cancers and the majority of other cancers of the female and male genital tract, anus, rectum, and oropharynx (head and neck cancers).

“Other than vaccination, there are no reliable methods to prevent the transmission of HPV during intimate contact between individuals.

“Gardasil 9, the only HPV vaccine currently available in the United States, provides immunity against seven of the ‘high risk’ types of HPV that are associated with cancer, as well as two ‘low risk’ types that account for 90 percent of genital warts. It’s estimated that widespread vaccination would prevent over 90 percent of HPV-related cancers. This translates to the prevention of approximately 17,800 cancers in women and 11,300 cancers in men annually in the U.S.

In a report published online on November 1, the President’s Cancer Panel lamented that, as of 2017, despite the presence of a safe, effective vaccine, fewer than half of the eligible adolescents have been fully vaccinated. The target age for vaccination is 11 to 12 years of age since Gardasil 9 is a preventative vaccine that should be administered prior to the onset of sexual activity. However, the FDA recently extended the indication for use of Gardasil 9 to women and men up to age 45.

“The Gynecologic Cancer Center team at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper is working with our colleagues in Houston, at the American Cancer Society, and with partners throughout New Jersey to educate medical practitioners and the public about the benefits of HPV vaccination. We are also fighting to correct the misinformation regarding side effects that may be preventing more widespread adoption of this vaccine.”

David P Warshal, MD, FACOG
Head, Division of Gynecologic Oncology
Director, Gynecologic Cancer Center

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