**Editor’s note. Welcome to Dr. Susan Greenwald, MD. If you have questions for a pediatrician, please post. We will forward them and have them answered on Wednesdays “Her Self” days at HVFH.
Written by Dr. Susan L. Greenwald, MD from The Kearney Clinic
From my earliest memory, Miss America and all of the other important people in the world talked about how great it would be to cure cancer. Just saying the “C” word is enough to give most people hives.
The biggest news in the past 2 decades isn’t a cure for cancer, but the discovery that many cancers start with a virus that can actually be PREVENTED.
All these years, when you had your yearly PAP smear, the lab technicians reading them were actually looking for changes in the cells that indicate cancer. It wasn’t until recently that anyone knew that those changes were caused by a virus. This was a breakthrough every bit as huge as when it was discovered that AIDS was caused by the HIV virus. (In fact, an immunization for HIV is in the early stages of development.)
Since Jonas Salk invented the first polio vaccine in the 1950’s, vaccine technology and manufacture has become rather mundane. Give medical science any virus, and they will figure out a way to make a vaccine against it. The vaccines against bacteria are trickier but just as successful. Maybe modern parents have become complacent because this generation has not seen the devastation wrought by Hemophilus Influenzae meningitis and Meningococcemia that killed a steady number of babies and toddlers, and neurologically devastated many more until the vaccines became available in the 80’s and 90’s. I don’t want to date myself but I witnessed that misery in my early career.
My parents witnessed the Polio and Pertussis deaths of a generation before. Measles caused sterility and Tetanus was a death sentence.
Think what a miracle it would seem to those previous generations to think that we can now prevent CANCER with a SHOT!
In fact, it is not a new concept. The reason your babies received Hepatitis A and B vaccines is not because it is cost effective to prevent hepatitis infections in everyone. Those are miserable infections but people generally recover. The reason your insurance company pays for those vaccines is because a certain number of those viral infections will smolder in the liver, causing liver cancer decades later.
Cancer is expensive.
With this history in mind, here are the facts:
1. Several strains of HPV cause the majority of cervical cancer. The virus also causes penile cancer, oral cancer and venereal warts.
2. Using vaccines to prevent a virus is an old, tested and proven technology. There is nothing new here. Side effects are similar to any other vaccine.
3. Vaccine prevention still works if you do it many years too early, it doesn’t work if you do it a day too late.
4. Surveys have shown that around 25% of 15 year old teens are sexually active. (Of course that would be none of our sweet babies!)
5. The vaccine is expensive, around $200 per shot or $600 for the series. Cancer is more expensive. That is why all insurance companies and the state are covering the cost.
Here’s my recommendation: Run, don’t walk, to the nearest clinic to start the series if you have a teen over 12.
The series can be started as young as 9 years old. If your teen is 15 or older you have absolutely no time to waste. Insurance generally covers up to age 24.
**Yes, it is important for boys to get the vaccine. Most experts believe it was a mistake to offer it only to girls initially. That was a supply issue that no longer exists. By getting your son vaccinated, you will definitely decrease the risk that your future grandchildren may lose their mother or father to cancer.