The rate of HPV (Human Papillomavirus) infection among young girls dropped by more than half, 56%, since mass immunizations of young girls (and now young boys) against the cancer-causing virus began in 2006, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
According to the National Cancer Institute, various strains of the sexually-transmitted HPV virus (there are many) cause “virtually all” cervical cancers, “most” (85% of) anal cancers, more than half of all oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers, and half of vaginal, penile and cancers.
(There’s also been a particularly large increase in HPV-caused oropharyngeal cancers in men over the past few decade: “The incidence of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer has increased during the past 20 years, especially among men. It has been estimated that, by 2020, HPV will cause more oropharyngeal cancers than cervical cancers in the United States”.)
Not every infection of even the “right” strain will lead to cancer, but “infections that last for many years increase a person’s risk of developing cancer,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
1/3 of girls have gotten HPV vaccine, yet still infections have plummeted
Routine immunizations of girls aged 11 and 12 began in late 2006. By 2012, only 32% of 13 to 17 year old girls had been vaccinated, but still they found that new HPV infections decreased 56% among girls age 14 to 19. This data is for 2010. Now, three years later, the data could be ever better.
While initially all the talk about HPV was about women (because of its link to cervical cancer), it is now recommended that young boys get the shot as well.
It is assumed that you will be infected by many strains of HPV in your lifetime – there are over 150 of them – but only 4 of the strains are linked to most of the cancers detailed above (though NCI notes that there are at least 12 strains which can cause caner). Because you will likely begin your exposure to HPV when you become sexually active (nearly 80 million American are infected with HPV, according to a recent study), experts recommend getting the vaccines before that time.
Gay men should consider getting vaccinated against HPV
As I’ve written before, I spoke to a top expert in the field about a year ago who recommended that I, a gay man in my 40s, get the vaccine.
The expert I spoke with said that at my age, as a single gay man, it was likely that I had not yet been infected with all 4 (and even less likely, all 12) of the “bad” strains, and thus taking the vaccination regimen (three shots over a period of six months) was recommended.
Having said that, for someone my age, insurance may not cover the shots – mine did not – which can cost nearly $200 a shot (three are needed to provide full immunity).
GOP pushes lie that HPV vaccine is “dangerous” – experts say that’s false
The HPV vaccine has been controversial among some conservatives who feared its use would provide a license for children to have sex. Studies have shown no cause and effect. And in any case, condemning your child to death is not a reasonable manner in which to preach abstinence. But that didn’t stop Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who ran for governor of Texas against Rick Perry, from cutting an ad targeting Perry for his support of HPV immunizations in Texas:
But of course the most famous HPV-denialist is none other than our beloved Michele Bachmann, who claimed that the HPV vaccine was linked to “mental retardation” in children. It’s not. Though clearly it can lead to some idiocy in adults.
Here’s Bachmann pushing her lies that the HPV vaccine is “potentially very dangerous” – the fact-checkers say that’s false – the discussion starts about 50 seconds into this NBC video, and of course Matt Lauer just lets Bachmann get away with pushing the lie, unchallenged: