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A Vaccine That Prevents Cancer

One of only two vaccines that help prevent cancer, the HPV vaccine protects against the human papillomavirus, which is so common that the CDC says that nearly all men and women will get it at some point in their lives, and estimates that approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected. HPV causes a number of cancers (99 percent of all cervical cancers), as well as genital warts in both men and women, which the vaccine can prevent. Therefore, the CDC advises that all children get the three-dose series over six months, starting at age 11 or 12, so that the vaccine generates its best immune response, which lessens as people age, and to be sure that the series is administered long before any exposure to the virus.

And though age 11 or 12 is optimum, the CDC says young men should still get vaccinated through age 21 (through age 26, if gay, bisexual or if their immune system is compromised) and young women through age 26. Most private health insurance plans now cover the HPV vaccine at no out-of-pocket cost because of ACA, while low-income children may be eligible for it through the federal Vaccines for Children Program (www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/index.html). Parents, as well as health care providers, whom the CDC says are not doing enough to get the word out about the HPV vaccine, are encouraged take advantage of one of the two HPV vaccines, which the CDC notes are "Safe, effective and grossly underutilized."

Since their introductions in 2006, Cervarix and Gardasil (Gardasil is for both boys and girls and also protects against genital warts) have been shown to reduce U.S. HPV infections 56 percent, in spite of low HPV vaccination rates, while in Australia, where the vaccine uptake is high, precancers of the cervix and genital warts have been dramatically reduced.

And just a few days ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil 9, which protects against nine types of HPV, five more than the previous version of Gardasil. It is approved for use in females age nine through 26 and males age nine through 15.

The Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (LCCCP) (www.lcccp.org), whichworks on creating awareness about cancers that can be prevented or mitigated with screenings and lifestyle choices, is one of the CDC-funded Louisiana Cancer Prevention andControl Programs (LCP) housed at the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health. Sister programs include the Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program (LBCHP) and the Louisiana Tumor Registry (LTR). For more information, go to www.louisianacancer.org.