The HPV Vaccine can Help Your Kid Fight Cancer
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard about HPV (human papillomavirus) and its vaccination. Indeed, the HPV virus is known to cause health problems that include certain cancers. Many parents, however, are unsure about other aspects of HPV and its respective vaccine.
To lend clarity to these questions, we caught up with a Metro Health physician, Caitlin Mlynarek, DO, to get answers about the HPV vaccine.
We asked her things like, Who should get it? Are there side effects? What are the benefits?
We started with background information.
- The HPV vaccine is usually administered to kids around age 11-12
- The CDC says the rates of cervical cancer have been steadily decreasing since the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine became available in 2006. It estimates that human papillomavirus (HPV) causes 35,000 cases of cancer in men and women every year.
Based on this information, Dr. Mlynarek strongly urges children to receive this protective vaccine.
“I recommend the HPV vaccine to all of my patients and tell them that this is the only vaccine we have that protects against infections that are known to cause cancer,” says Dr. Mlynarek.
How the HPV Vaccine is Administered
As with all vaccines, there are important details related to the administration of the vaccine to be aware of:
- It’s administered intramuscularly by your PCP/pediatrician or at a local health department.
- Most children who get their first dose before age 15 need only two doses, but those who receive their first dose after age 15 need three doses. Most people over 26 years old will not benefit from the HPV vaccine.
- The vaccine is licensed by the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC approves the HPV vaccine as safe and effective.
- Reported side effects are mild and include pain, redness, swelling where the shot was given, fever, headache, dizziness, and nausea.
- The HPV vaccine does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.
- Vaccination during pregnancy is typically avoided because of limited information about safety.
Speaking on a personal level, Dr. Mlynarek shares, “I received three doses of the HPV vaccine as a teenager when the vaccine was first introduced, and I have not exhibited any negative or adverse side effects of this vaccine.”
Debunking Common HPV Misconceptions
As a pediatrician, Dr. Mlynarek is supportive of the entire schedule of childhood vaccines recommended by the CDC and wants to address concerns parents may have about the HPV vaccine specifically.
This newer vaccine isn’t as familiar to us parents as the chicken pox or polio vaccines, so naturally, we want to know more.
1) Only Girls Need the HPV Vaccine
“Both genders are at risk of additional cancers throughout the body,” says Dr. Mlynarek.
While HPV is commonly associated with cervical cancer, its damaging effects don’t stop there.
Dr. Mlynarek explains, “Nine out of 10 HPV infections will go away by themselves within two years, but sometimes they can last longer. The virus can lead to cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva in women and the penis in men.
“I will have both my daughter and my son receive this vaccine when they are of age.”
HPV is a common virus, so common in fact that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. On one end of the spectrum, it causes skin and genital warts, and on the other end, it leads to certain forms of cancer.
2) Only Sexually Active Teens Need the HPV Vaccine
The virus is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact such as vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has it. This leads many parents to believe that their own child does not need this vaccine. That they won’t practice underage sex.
While I also hope that my children will make wise choices as teens and young adults, I also don’t want to risk cancer based on my kids’ well-intentioned declarations of celibacy.
My kids also hope to never get in a car accident, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll never pay for car insurance when they learn to drive. The HPV vaccine is a type of insurance.
3) Like Flu Shots, You Must Continually Update Your HPV Vaccine
If you start the vaccine early enough, your child will likely only need two doses of the HPV vaccine. And if they don’t start till age 15, they’ll only need three doses.
“Unlike the flu vaccine, for example, research suggests that the HPV vaccine is long-lasting,” says Dr. Mlynarek “Studies have followed vaccinated individuals for 10 years and found that there is no evidence of weakened protection over time.”
4) The HPV Vaccine is Unsafe
Vaccines, in general, are a controversial subject, with the HPV vaccine igniting strong feelings in some parents.
“The HPV vaccine is so controversial because there is a lot of misinformation out there about the vaccine,” says Dr. Mlynarek. She advises that parents look at reputable sources regarding the HPV vaccine and to ask your child’s doctor questions.
If you’re concerned that the HPV vaccine is dangerous, conduct fact-based research before having your child vaccinated. Look for sources that are trusted, long time publishers of unbiased information – sources that have nothing to gain or lose from reporting clear facts about the HPV vaccine.
The most common side effect is fainting after receiving the vaccine.
“Fainting after the HPV vaccine is a known side effect and something that we monitor for in office after the vaccine is given,” says Mlynarek.
For parents who would like additional guidelines and facts, Dr. Mlynarek recommends visiting the CDC’s website.
If your child has not received the HPV vaccine and you would like to schedule an appointment with one of Metro Health – University of Michigan Health’s board-certified pediatricians, visit https://metrohealth.net/pediatrics/ to find a location near you.