HPV vaccine: A safe way to prevent cancer

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About one in four men and women in the United States have the human papilloma virus, or HPV, which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. It can also lead to several other types of cancers, including cancers of the mouth, throat and anus.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that can prevent it.

The HPV vaccine has been available since 2006. Because there is no screening for most of the types of cancers that HPV causes, it’s important to prevent HPV before it becomes deadly.

As the medical community learns more about how the vaccine works, we have learned that the immune system responds better when children receive it at a young age. We are also aware that many parents have concerns about the safety of the HPV vaccine.

We want to reassure you that the HPV vaccine is safe. All vaccines used in the United States are required to go through extensive safety testing before the Food and Drug Administration licenses them. After they are in use, the FDA continually monitors these drugs for safety and effectiveness.

There have been many studies to make sure the two vaccines that protect against HPV are safe. These studies have not uncovered any major safety concerns.

Like any vaccine, the HPV vaccine can cause side effects, though many who receive the vaccine experience no side effects at all. Some of the most common side effects are soreness or redness at the site of the injection, fever and headache. Other vaccines for adolescents can cause the same side effects.

Fainting can happen after many medical procedures, including vaccination. Fainting after getting a shot is more common among adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tell the doctor or nurse if your child feels dizzy or light-headed.

You may have seen stories circulate online that link the vaccine to infertility, seizures and chronic conditions. The data about the vaccine doesn’t support these claims.

About 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year. We recommend that all boys and girls who are 11 or 12 years old get two shots of HPV vaccine six to 12 months apart. Kids who receive their two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of the vaccine.

If your child is older than 14, he or she will need to receive three shots over a six-month period.

The benefits of the HPV vaccination far outweigh any potential risks.  Immunizing your child against HPV is a significant way to prevent multiple cancers later in life.  Please talk to your pediatric provider about questions you have regarding effectiveness, safety, or timing of this important immunization.

 Learn more at askAAMC.org/HPVvaccine.

In partnership with the Anne Arundel County Public Library, we’re hosting a free event, Smart Woman: HPV Vaccine for Cancer Prevention, on Jan. 11. The event will feature a panel of medical professionals, as well as a cancer survivor, who will answer questions about the vaccine. Sign up online.

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