(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The majority of teenagers in the United States are immunized against diseases like tetanus and meningitis. So why is it that significantly fewer are being vaccinated for the cancer-causing human-papilloma virus? Last week the CDC released a study stating that less than half of American teens receive the vaccine, putting them at risk for HPV-associated illnesses like throat and cervical cancer. We’ll talk to medical experts and health advocates about the latest research on HPV prevention.

Guests:
Sophia Yen, teen and young adult health specialist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, and clinical assistant professor at Stanford School of Medicine
Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of books including "Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All"
Pamela Tom, founder of HPVandme.org

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    I think some parents dislike the suggestion that all young men and women will be having sex, which is suggested by some of those pushing the HPV vaccine. And the HPV vaccine only is aimed at a select type of cancer. And have you see how expensive the vaccine is?????????????

    Not to mention way to many parents with children are legitimately concerned that vaccines in general have risks.

    • Edward

      Dear Beth, I agree with you that the approach should be moderated. However, while some subjects may cause some parents to become uncomfortable, their discomfort will not change a ‘fact of the matter’ in a given teenager’s life. As parents and as the responsible adults in our children’s lives, it is incumbent on us to face facts, especially when it comes to our children; while we don’t like the idea of our teens having early sexual experiences, that does not mean our teens will not have early sexual experiences. So, if a parent chooses to avoid this simple vaccination, he and/or she is doing a terrible disservice to his/her child.

      Yes the target is narrow, but it also happens to be directed at a group who often exceeds their parents’ hopes and dreams. The Guttmacher Institute’s research on sexual activity in teens states the following: “Fewer than 2% of adolescents have had sex by the time they reach their 12th birthday. But adolescence is a time of rapid change. Only 16% of teens have had sex by age 15, compared with one-third of those aged 16, nearly half (48%) of those aged 17, 61% of 18-year-olds and 71% of 19-year-olds.[1] There is little difference by gender in the timing of first sex.” It moves like a wildfire between the ages of 15 and 19. And, as identified as the professionals on this program, these are the critical ages for ‘infection.’

      Finally, regarding the price, I also agree with you here. This is a public health risk and it should be covered by most health care programs, and by government sponsored programs where there is not coverage. The good news is, it IS covered by most health care programs. Check with yours.

  • thucy

    “Last week the CDC released a study stating that less than half of American teens receive the vaccine, putting them at risk for HPV-associated illnesses like throat and cervical cancer.”

    No disrespect to the CDC, which does invaluable work, but is it not true that the link between cervical cancer and hpv remains only associative, not causal?

    I am a great believer in childhood vaccination, but is this necessary? Or Is this one more Pharma-generated hysteria?

    • Janet Kornegay

      thucy – although most people will clear the virus spontaneously, cervical cancer is definitely caused by HPV. There is an abundance of scientific evidence for this, and it has been generally accepted since the late 90s.

      • thucy

        Janet,
        Thanks for your reply. Per The World Health Organization, most people who have had HPV infections do not develop cervical cancer. But I was surprised to learn that 90% of cervical cancer is linked to HPV. There are a host of other factors, including smoking and a weakened immune system. Given the recent CDC report on drinking and cancer, alcohol consumption is also a likely factor.
        I’m very curious about the distinction between causality and association. Is there a source for causality re HPV/cerv cancer? I know Offitt addressed this specific question in the broadcast, I’ll give it another listen.
        Definitely an important program, and all the guests were great.

  • disqus_pqkUU9x7Do

    Thank you so much for doing this report on hpv. As a young woman who has gone through positive hpv testing colcoscopy and shame/fear of cancer/waiting to see what would happen. Thankfully I cleared the virus, but if someone had told me about it I could have gotten the vaccine: I was within the age range when the vaccine came out! I’m so glad we are finally starting to talk about this! I hope the generations after me have an easier time with this.

  • Nancie Mills Pipgras

    I was diagnosed with cancer caused by HPV in 2006. Having been through two difficult surgeries and horrendous chemo/radiation that has left me with life-long side effects, I do not understand why any parent would NOT do everything possible to make sure their child will avoid my fate — Especially when that action is proven to be safe and effective. How this virus is transmitted and who produces the vaccine is irrelevant; it is deadly.

    • hpvandme

      Nancie, I’m so sorry to hear about your cancer and hope you are feeling well today. You don’t say what kind of cancer you suffered but simultaneous radiation/chemo treatment for HPV throat cancer is indeed “horrendous.” The mouth, base of the tongue or throat affects the way we eat, breathe, and enjoy quality of life. If parents could see what treatment is like, and its long-term side effects, getting one’s child three shots is a piece of cake, a no-brainer. (There’s a video on our homepage that illustrates the treatment journey.) Mayo Clinic is currently conducting a clinical trial to prescribe less harsh treatment protocols to reduce long-term side effects such as no saliva, dry mouth, altered taste. Learn more at HPVANDME.ORG. My best to you …

  • Edward

    I just heard this program on KQED and it blew me away. I had no idea this was such a widespread problem.

    This program contains an important health warning. It is critical information for parents regarding their children’s health, because it’s affects can have devastating consequences for children. Beyond children however, this information potentially affects all of us; each of us needs to hear this medical knowledge and put this information to work in our lives; we must ensure this knowledge is accessible to our families and friends. There is far more to this than the show title suggests; this potentially affects anyone. To be clear: this could mean you or me, or any of us.

    I think KQED should make the audio link available immediately. The audio is currently unavailable (because the show is today’s show) but, memberships and protocol aside, this is a public health issue and the information should be available immediately. Someone please make the call, and make this audio available now. Thank you.

    • hpvandme

      Edward, you nailed it on the head. 75% of the US population will get HPV at some time in their lives. Most people’s immune systems will clear the virus; those who continue to carry HPV are at risk for cancer. And not just cervical cancer. HPV-positive throat cancer cases continue to increase and there is no formal screening test like the Pap smear. HPV causes 95% of anal cancers. HPVANDME.ORG provides education and support …. please share.

  • Maria

    Very informative program on HPV vaccine! I heard I the show that a new version of the vaccine protecting against 9 strains vs. the current one which protects against 4 strains will be available soon. What is the timing and trial safety period for the new vaccine?

    • We don’t know when the new one will be approved. Could be Dec this year, could be later. The medical community would suggest getting vaccinated now and when the new one comes out, you can get vaccinated with that one and “add 5 more strains of coverage.”

  • Voter

    Please cite the study that shows that a single case of cancer has been prevented by this vaccine.

    • Whamadoodle

      Not sure what on earth you’re trying to prove, but according to this:

      http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/cancer-questions/cervical-cancer-vaccine

      no patients in the studies of Gardasil suffered pre-cancerous changes, whereas 21 of the placebo patients did. This anti-vaccination movement is highly dangerous, not only to those who insist that they know more about medicine than the people who conduct such studies, but to other children coming in contact with anti-vaccination people’s children. Could we please just knock it off with this?

  • Anne Foster-Rosales

    We vaccinate against Hepatitis B in infancy, also a virus that causes cancer, and also a sexually transmitted virus, so, why would we not vaccinate against HPV which also can cause cervical and other cancers? Setting the cancer issue aside, it reduces abnormal pap smears (pre-cancerous pap smears), the need for cervical biopsies, removal of part of the cervix (cone biospy or LEEP), and the associated costs and anxiety. The Gardisil vaccine also prevents genital warts. HPV is ubiquitous and invisible, one can’t know if a partner carries it or not, and most people are exposed to some form of it within 2 years of their sexual debut (usually high school or college), so the time to protect our children is LONG before they could be exposed. That’s what we are doing with Hepatitis B, no difference! It makes no sense not to vaccinate our children, I just did.

    • Whamadoodle

      Amen. It drives me crazy that there is an anti-vaccination movement. Do we question other scientists in the same way? Is there an “airplane safety works through witch-doctor magic, and I’ve never seen oxygen masks save a life, so don’t install oxygen masks” movement? Since there isn’t, I cannot understand why there is a similar (and similarly baseless) movement deriding medical science on vaccination.

  • VaccineRisks

    Questions to which neither the Gardasil manufacturer
    nor other promoters including health authorities and doctors are able to
    provide satisfactorily documented answers.

    GARDASIL – HITHERTO UNANSWERED QUESTIONS:

    Whether Gardasil prevents cancer, necessity for boosters, increased risk of
    cancer due to ingredients, increased risk of cancer due to strains which are
    removed being replaced by more carcinogenic ones, increased risk of cancer due
    to aluminium bound recombinant HPV DNA, if vaccinated may donate blood without
    aluminium bound recombinant HPV DNA causing serious health consequences for
    recipients, autoimmune disorders due to the recombinant HPV DNA, if cervical
    cancer is caused by HPV or if there must be additional factor for this to
    occur, if HPV is necessarily an infection transmitted by sexual intercourse,
    genotoxicity, whether it targets the relevant virus strains in different
    demographics, whether the strains change in time, adverse events due to
    concomitant administration with other vaccines, true numbers of serious adverse
    events, long term serious side effects, results if a true placebo had been used
    in clinical trials, results of clinical trials if Merck had not used own
    exclusion criteria, blood clots with or without hormonal contraceptives, brain
    damage, consequences of “bridging” – extrapolation of study results from one
    group to another, infertility due to polysorbate, whether polysorbate is
    carcinogenic, health consequences due to the presence of the combination of
    polysorbate and l-histidine, aluminium safety, sodium borate toxicity,
    miscarriages, stillbirths, babies born with anomalies, whether Gardasil is
    excreted in human milk, whether some have a genetic predisposition to injected
    aluminium and may suffer serious adverse reactions, complete list of
    ingredients – and whether possible benefits outweigh the risks.

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