Dose of preven­tion

Vac­cine can pre­vent HPV can­cers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - VIC SNY­DER Dr. Vic Sny­der is the cor­po­rate med­i­cal direc­tor for ex­ter­nal af­fairs at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Decades ago when I was a young­ster, a boy who lived a few houses down the street and was in my Boy Scout troop died of leukemia. Around that time my grand­fa­ther died of blad­der cancer.

In those days we friends and fam­ily mem­bers tended to lump all can­cers to­gether, and the word “cancer” was spo­ken with dread as if it had such un­lim­ited power that it would be wise not to arouse it by say­ing the word too loudly. Un­for­tu­nately, for mil­lions in those days, cancer was deadly.

We are smarter now, thanks to years of hard work world­wide by med­i­cal re­searchers.

We know that “cancer” is a broad term for many forms of dis­ease that have many dif­fer­ent causes, treat­ments and out­comes. We know that there is much hope for many with a new di­ag­no­sis, and that there are mil­lions of joy­ful cancer sur­vivors who can tell you ex­actly how long they have been cancer-free. We know of things we can do to pre­vent some can­cers, the best ex­am­ple be­ing the elim­i­na­tion of any form of to­bacco in our lives.


In 2006, when the first hu­man pa­pil­loma virus (HPV) cancer preven­tion vac­cine was in­tro­duced, there was much ex­cite­ment about this op­por­tu­nity to pre­vent thou­sands of can­cers. We know that per­sis­tent in­fec­tion with HPV can cause car­ci­no­mas of the cervix, as well as squa­mous cell can­cers of the vulva, vagina, pe­nis, anus, rec­tum, and orophar­ynx. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion anal­y­sis shows that from 2008-2012, there were 142,000 can­cers di­ag­nosed in Amer­ica that would have been pre­vented if those peo­ple had been vac­ci­nated with HPV vac­cine.

One hun­dred forty-two thou­sand pre­ventable can­cers!

More re­cent CDC data from 20132014 showed that al­most 23 per­cent of adults — that’s more than one in five — have the type of HPV virus that put them at high risk for th­ese can­cers.

Gone are the days of whis­per­ing “cancer.” Now we need to holler. We should be shout­ing over and over again, “CANCER PREVEN­TION VAC­CINE,” but we are not, and the re­sult is our HPV cancer preven­tion vac­cine rates are nowhere near where they ought to be.

That’s true in Arkansas: Far too many can­cers are not be­ing pre­vented. One rea­son has to do with the words we use. Of­ten I have in­com­pletely called this vac­cine the “hu­man pa­pil­loma virus (HPV)” vac­cine, but that doesn’t tell what this vac­cine can do. It is far more ac­cu­rate to call it the HPV cancer preven­tion vac­cine.

One rea­son the words are so im­por­tant is be­cause child­hood, be­gin­ning at age 11, is the best time to give this vac­cine, which means par­ents make the de­ci­sion for their chil­dren. They need to know the pur­pose of im­mu­niza­tions.

Peo­ple don’t die of the virus, they die of the cancer. They don’t have surgery for the virus, they have surgery for the cancer. The pur­pose of the vac­cine is to pre­vent can­cers, and whether we are a par­ent, friend, doc­tor, or in­sur­ance com­pany, we are giv­ing in­com­plete in­for­ma­tion if we don’t say this vac­cine is all about preven­tion of cer­tain kinds of cancer.

There is an ad­van­tage to be­gin­ning this vac­cine at age 11: only two doses (six months apart) are re­quired. Af­ter age 15, three doses are re­quired. My wife and I have a house full of young boys. I want them to be pro­tected; and when they are ma­ture young men, I want their loved ones to be pro­tected. They will have no prob­lem un­der­stand­ing that two shots are bet­ter than three.

And I prom­ise you when the time comes for th­ese boys to re­ceive this vac­cine, I am not go­ing to be say­ing “vulva, vagina, pe­nis, anus, rec­tum, or orophar­ynx.” I am go­ing to be say­ing “cancer preven­tion” for some can­cers. If they want to know more, they can ask their mother.

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