January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre is taking this opportunity to encourage mothers to get their daughters vaccinated for HPV (human papilloma virus). The recently FDA-approved HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cervical cancer, precancerous genital lesions and genital warts by targeting four types of HPV: types 6, 11, 16 and 18. HPV types 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.
'HPV is a very common sexually transmitted disease with about 75 percent to 80 percent of women being infected at some time in their lives,' says Allison Blazek, M.D., assistant professor in Clinical Cancer Prevention at M. D. Anderson. 'Cervical cancer develops because of abnormal changes in the cervix caused by high-risk strains of HPV, which are present in more than 99 percent of cervical cancer cases.'
'The HPV vaccine is very effective in preventing persistent infections and precancerous conditions in the cervix caused by HPV,' Blazek says. 'The vaccine was studied for more than five years among large groups of young women and was found to be very safe.'
For this reason, Susan Rafte recently took her teenage daughter to get the HPV vaccine. 'As a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed at the age of 30, I am very concerned about my daughter's future health,' Rafte says. 'I feel that if there is a way to possibly prevent or reduce her risk of getting cancer - any cancer - I want to be sure she has that advantage.'
M. D. Anderson recommends that girls get the vaccine when they are ages 11 to 12. Parents may choose to vaccinate girls as young as age 9. Girls and women age 13 to 26 may be vaccinated to catch up on a missed vaccine or to complete the vaccination series.
Females with a current or past HPV infection of one type still may benefit from the vaccine says Blazek. For example, if a person was infected with type 6 before receiving the vaccine, she will be protected from types 11, 16 and 18 after receiving the vaccine.
'Speaking with your daughter about HPV is also a great way to open a discussion about tough topics like sex and STDs,' Rafte says. 'It is important to point out to them that although this vaccine will help prevent some types of cervical cancer, there are still a lot of other reasons to be cautious when entering their sexually active years.'
The HPV vaccine does not protect against all high-risk types of HPV, so those who receive the vaccine still need to follow recommended cervical cancer screening guidelines, which includes the Pap test. The most effective way to reduce the risk of HPV infection is to be abstinent or remain in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Condom use does not eliminate the risk of HPV.
'It is a bit scary to be the first on the block to make the decision to do something new, but I think the HPV vaccine is important to our next generation of young women,' Rafte says.