While the overall death rate from cancer has dropped in recent years, more people than ever are being diagnosed with anal cancer and certain cancers of the throat and mouth. Both are linked to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease. That's frustrating, since a relatively new, but underused, vaccine can help prevent the infection.
Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, can prevent HPV infection. Both are recommended for girls and women ages 11 to 26 to help prevent cervical cancer. But Gardasil also protects against most genital warts and possibly other cancers, including anal cancer, and is also recommended for boys and men ages 11 to 21.
But less than half of girls aged 13 to 17 years had received one or more doses of the vaccine in 2010, and only about one-third had received the entire three-shot series, according to a new report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. And probably even fewer boys get the shot.
Including the vaccine among those required by schools could increase vaccination rates, but only Virginia and Washington, D.C. now do that. But the authors note that health care professionals may be hesitant about talking about the vaccine with kids and parents because it can mean talking about a child's future sexual activity.
"HPV-related cancers are rising at epidemic rates and the best chance to prevent it in a child is in the teen years before they become sexually active," says Consumer Reports medical adviser Orly Avitzur, M.D. "Parents need to include discussion about this vaccine when they speak to their teens about other sexually-related topics including STDs, safe sex or abstinence."
See Dr. Avitzur's recent column, How Can You Get HPV?
Source: Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2009, Featuring the Burden and Trends in Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-Associated Cancers and HPV
Vaccination Coverage Levels [J Natl Cancer Inst]