Pediatrician: Fight Cancer. Get the Shot.

Written by Susan

**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.

(Feature Picture Source: CBS News)

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  • I agree with everything you said, but MUST caution people to check to make sure it’s covered by insurance. I took my two boys to their well child visit, had one shot (of the three in the series) and got a bill for $400. It wasn’t covered. And a review my the insurance company didn’t make a difference.

  • Kimberly, that is the first I heard of that. Checking with the insurance company is always a good idea. For those who don’t have coverage or don’t have insurance, the state of Nebraska pays for the shots at the free shot clinics. Many of my patients have gotten theirs there. There are several sites around the state. They are sponsored by Community Action Partnership. They don’t list a web site on my info sheet. The phone number is 877-209-3723 ext. 152. This number is good for Buffalo, Dawson, Kearney, Harlan, Phelps, and Gosper counties. You may want to get your second and third doses there, especially with more than one teen to immunize.

  • I have a child is who is allergic to vaccines and a brother who has brain damage from his vaccines as a toddler, I’m all for safety and prevention as my other two are vaccinated. But–I wish there was more research and testing done so we all can use the vaccines.

  • Yikes! I don’t want to think about 15 year olds being sexually active!!!! I opted not to get the shots for my boys until after I checked with my insurance company because I knew they were expensive. I called and found out that yes they were covered. But I’m like you Heather, vaccines make me nervous when they are new to the market. We don’t even get flu shots in my house and we’ve never been hit with the flu (knock on wood). However, I will probably go ahead and have both my boys (12 and 15) get the shot. You convinced me Dr. Sue. 🙂 Although it still makes me nervous. But not as nervous as my son being a teen dad! Is there a shot for that??