Know the Facts About the HPV Vaccine

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 million people — including nearly half of the male population — in the United States have HPV, the human papilloma virus. Most strains of the slow-growing, sexually transmitted HPV infection are harmless. However, certain HPV strains can lead to cancer later in life, especially oral and cervical cancer. Just as bad, the cancer often shows up in the prime of life — the early 30s.

But here’s the good news for those most at risk: The HPV vaccine is an effective way to prevent the disease and the cancers it can cause. It’s safe and extra effective for preteens between 11 and 12, and it can provide a lifetime of protection.

Sarah E. Kohl, M.D., Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at St. Clair Hospital, is an HPV expert, and she highly recommends the vaccine for preteens. “In western Pennsylvania in 2015, immunization rates for boys ages 13-17 was 38 percent; for girls, it was 47 percent. For preteens, the rate varies from 14 to 20 percent for both genders,” Dr. Kohl says.
So what do those numbers mean? “Parents are not getting their kids vaccinated. This is a highly effective vaccine, but it is being underutilized,” says Dr. Kohl.


“At age 11, kids should get TdaP (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), plus meningitis vaccine and HPV vaccine. Of the three, the disease most likely to kill you is HPV.”


Each year, HPV causes 6,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. alone. On top of that, there are 27,000 new cases of HPV-related cancer diagnoses every year. And because it’s usually sexually transmitted, it can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus and mouth.

“Oral cancer from HPV is the number one oral cancer in men,” the St. Clair Hospital Chair says, meaning it causes more oral cancer than smoking. In females, HPV is the number one cause of cervical cancer and oral cancer. Perhaps the worst part is that there’s no screening for it. “About 30 percent of women who get cervical cancer from HPV have a normal Pap smear one year prior to diagnosis.”

That makes prevention extremely important. While it may be uncomfortable for parents to think about their preteens at risk for a virus that’s most likely to be contracted due to sexual activity, Dr. Kohl emphasizes that getting HPV vaccine for a preteen is something all parents should include in their child’s vaccination scheduling. “Parents can literally protect the child’s future. Parents already do this in countless ways — HPV vaccine is one more way to help your child become a healthy, thriving adult.”

This story is an edited version of a full report published in our Spring 2017 edition of HouseCall. If you want to read the full write-up — which includes more information — you can visit the St.Clair website and download a copy of our Spring 2017 HouseCall here.