Other Voices

Wouldn’t you want your daughter to have a vaccine against breast cancer?

Cancer can be devastating. That’s why breast cancer is the focus of many high-profile awareness campaigns.

Cancer upends lives. It can require invasive surgeries, expensive chemotherapy and seemingly endless hospital visits. It’s sometimes fatal.

If there were a shot your adolescent could be given to prevent breast cancer, wouldn’t you want it?

While a breast cancer vaccine is still years away, there is a shot to prevent some cancers, the HPV vaccine. But not enough people are getting it.

As we mark Cervical Health Awareness Month, we remind parents to protect children (boys and girls) by making sure they receive this potentially life-saving vaccine.

Once every 20 minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with a Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancer, with cervical cancer the most common.

Yet only about one-third of teenage girls and one-fifth of teenage boys in Texas get all three doses of the vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every year that we stay at current coverage levels rather than achieving the Healthy People 2020 objective of 80 percent, we will see 4,400 future cervical cancer cases and 1,400 deaths.

That’s 4,400 times a year doctors will have to say, “You have cancer;” 4,400 times women will have to go through invasive treatments; 4,400 times parents will have to fear that they will outlive their children. And 1,400 times that they will.

Getting vaccinated isn’t just about protecting young women from cervical cancer. HPV is estimated to be responsible for 5 percent of all cancers worldwide, including several types in men.

In fact, current rates of HPV-related head and neck cancers in young men are skyrocketing in the U.S. So much so that many estimates predict the number of these types of cancers will surpass that of cervical cancers.

But unlike cervical cancer where we have good screening methods such as pap smears to help identify pre-cancers before they get too far, there are no such screening methods for the HPV-related cancers that affect boys.

Even if you don’t think your child is at risk for HPV now, they almost certainly will be. HPV is extremely common.

Nearly everyone gets it at some point in their lifetime, and roughly 80 percent before age 50. While some HPV cases clear up on their own, others lead to cancer.

The vaccine is most effective when administered at 11 or 12 years old, when the immune system responds best to the vaccine and far before your child is engaged in any kind of sexual activity.

If that window has closed for you and your family, it’s likely not too late. The shot is approved up to age 26.

By ensuring your children receive three simple shots in early adolescence, you reduce their risk of a terrifying diagnosis. You reduce their risk of cancer.

Don’t wait. Vaccinate your 11-year-olds against HPV today.

Anna C. Dragsbaek is president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership, a nonprofit organization based in Houston.