Helping to prevent cervical cancer

Helping to prevent cervical cancer

By Ann Reynolds

Physicians past the age of 60 remember cervical cancer as the leading cause of death from cancer in women in the United States. Happily, the annual Pap test for women has caused a huge decline in the number of deaths from cervical cancer, based on early detection and treatment of precancerous lesions.

Even so, nearly 4,000 women still die each year from the disease in our nation.

Today, we can prevent cervical cancer with a vaccine for the human papillomavirus, or HPV. This vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer in women if it is given before exposure to the virus.

It also prevents vaginal and vulvar cancer in females as well as genital warts and anal cancer in both males and females.

In addition, oral and throat cancer linked to HPV is increasing dramatically in the United States — to the extent it may exceed the incidence of cervical cancer in the next decade. Thus, it is equally important to vaccinate both boys and girls.

Human papillomavirus infects more than half of sexually active men and women at some time in their lives; most infections cause no symptoms and the virus is suppressed by the body's immune system.

However, an HPV infection can cause cancer, the strongest causal connection to cancer currently known. Thus, it is critical that all children be vaccinated before they are sexually active and exposed to the virus.

The HPV vaccine should be given as early as age 9 and ideally at 11 or 12 years of age when the vaccine response is strong. It is also recommended that young people up to the age of 26 who have not yet been vaccinated also obtain the vaccine. The vaccine is given as a three-dose series, over a six-month period, and requires no boosters later on. Your local doctor should be able to provide the vaccine.

Vermont has achieved a vaccination rate of 74 percent, proving it can be done. We need similarly to prove we care about our children and actively work to vaccinate them.

We have all yearned for a "cure for cancer." Here is one.

Ann Reynolds, a member of The News-Gazette Board of Directors, is a former president of University of Alabama, Birmingham. This originally appeared in The Citizen (Key West, Fla.).

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