The HPV Vaccine Controversy: Sex, Cancer, God, and Politics: A Guide for Parents, Women, Men, and Teenagers
by Shobha S. Krishnan, M.D.
Praeger Publishers, 2008
The HPV vaccine, released in 2006, was ripe for controversy, at least in places like the United States. Here there is a strong anti-sex undercurrent from certain segments of society, and fears abound that a vaccine that protects against a common sexually transmitted infection — especially one whose symptoms disproportionately affect females — would encourage sexual promiscuity among our nation’s teenage girls. In addition, there is a segment of society that is deeply suspicious toward vaccines, a fear that is often fueled by misinformation or misunderstanding.
The HPV Vaccine Controversy is an excellent resource for anyone considering vaccination, as well as those who have already been exposed to human papillomavirus.
While Krishnan’s book is an invaluable guide for anyone considering the vaccine for themselves or their child, it covers much wider territory than just the vaccine and its attendant controversies. The first half of the book is devoted not to a discussion of vaccination but to a thorough and accessible description of female anatomy (although apparently her claim about the teenage cervix is controversial), the lifecycle and transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV), cancer screening techniques such as the Pap test, and the slow development of cancer caused by HPV infection. It also has good information on genital warts, which are caused by certain strains of HPV (such as HPV-6 and HPV-11) that often get overlooked in discussions of their cancer-causing cousins (such as HPV-16 and HPV-18). This makes the book an excellent resource for anyone who has had an abnormal Pap test and has questions — the detailed descriptions of the various cervical-cell abnormalities and the different stages of cervical cancer will assist the lay reader in making sense of her diagnosis. Continue reading
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Gardasil is one of two HPV vaccines. It protects against two cancer-causing strains of HPV and two wart-causing strains.
You’ve probably heard a lot about the HPV vaccine, which protects against the sexually transmitted pathogen human papillomavirus — which itself can lead to cancers of the cervix, anus, throat, and more. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the vaccine, such as Michele Bachmann’s debunked claim that it causes mental retardation. But, even before Bachmann gave us her two cents, there have been plenty of falsehoods flying around about the HPV vaccine.
Myth: Vaccination against HPV will increase sexual promiscuity among vaccine recipients.
Fact: Studies show that this fear is unfounded.
A study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine contradicts this claim. In a group of more than 4,000 young females, there was no significant difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated in terms of number of sexual partners or the age at which sexual activity began.
There are around 150 strains of HPV, about 15 of which can cause cancer. Together, HPV-16 and HPV-18 cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers.
Besides, the vast majority of teenagers who choose abstinence do so for reasons other than a fear of contracting HPV. Additionally, HPV is one of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs); if fear of contracting an STI were the only factor in teenagers’ celibacy, a vaccine that protected against only one STI would not remove this fear.
(It might bear pointing out that when the HPV vaccine was approved for boys and men, fears about male promiscuity didn’t seem to run as rampant.)
Myth: Because the HPV vaccine only protects against two cancer-causing strains of HPV, it isn’t useful in cancer prevention.
Fact: The two cancer-causing strains of HPV that the vaccine protects against account for 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer. Furthermore, Gardasil protects against two additional strains of HPV, which together are responsible for 90 percent of genital warts.
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Tagged adverse reactions, cancer, Cervarix, cervical cancer, colposcopy, cryotherapy, DNA, Gardasil, HPV, HPV vaccine, HPV-16, HPV-18, human papillomavirus, Michele Bachmann, Pap smear, Pap smears, precancerous lesions, promiscuity, sexually transmitted disease, sexually transmitted diseases, sexually transmitted infection, sexually transmitted infections, STD, STDs, STI, STIs, vaccine, virus
Healthy cervical cells as seen under a microscope. Image: National Cancer Institute
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. The biggest threat to cervical health is human papillomavirus, or HPV, a virus that is transmitted through a wide variety of sexual activities. If you haven’t yet been sexually active, the best thing you can do to protect cervical health (whether you have a cervix or not) is to be vaccinated against HPV. If you have been sexually active, the vaccine could still be effective, assuming you haven’t already been infected with the strains of HPV against which it protects. And, if you are, or have been, sexually active and have a cervix, it is important to be screened with regular Pap tests (also called Pap smears). When caught in its precancerous stages, cervical cancer can be avoided.
The human papillomavirus may be tiny, but it packs a punch.
There are more than 100 strains of HPV, approximately 40 of which can be sexually transmitted; of these, 18 strains are thought to cause cancer. Chronic infections by cancer-causing HPV strains, such as HPV-16 and HPV-18 (which together are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers), can lead to the development of abnormal cells, which might eventually become cancerous.
In the United States, HPV is the most widespread sexually transmitted infection – 6 million Americans are infected with HPV annually, although most are asymptomatic and unaware they were infected. For most people, the infection clears up within 8 to 13 months, while for others, the infection can lurk undetected. If you are unlucky enough to develop a chronic HPV infection, then you are at increased risk for certain cancers — depending on the site of the infection, HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, and other genitals, as well as the throat. Continue reading
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Tagged basal cells, basal keratinocytes, cancer, cervical cancer, Gardasil, HLA-DRB1, HPV, HPV vaccine, human papillomavirus, immune system, keratinocytes, Pap smear, sexually transmitted disease, sexually transmitted diseases, sexually transmitted infection, sexually transmitted infections, STD, STDs, STI, STIs, ubiquitination, vaccine, virus
Virus-like particles, which mimic the outer shell of HPV, are used in the HPV vaccine to induce an immune response against the virus. Image obtained from cancer.gov.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, which gives us an opportunity to learn about the virus that causes most cancers of the cervix (as well as other cancers). More than six million Americans are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) every year, making it one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. There are more than 100 different strains of the virus, some of which can cause genital warts and others of which can lead to cancer. In most cases, an HPV infection will clear up within eight to 13 months, but it can lurk undetected for years, which makes cancer screening very important for anyone who has been sexually active.
Most sexual activities – especially those involving genital-to-genital contact, i.e., vaginal and anal intercourse or simply rubbing genitals together, but also those involving oral and manual contact – can transmit HPV. Although HPV is best known for its connection to cervical cancer in women, it can affect either sex and cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, anus, oral cavity, or pharynx.
Together, HPV-16 and HPV-18 cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. Fifty percent of U.S. women who die of cervical cancer have never had a Pap smear; in countries without widespread access to Pap smears, cervical cancer remains a major cause of death. Continue reading
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Tagged anal cancer, cancer, Cervarix, cervical cancer, Gardasil, HPV, HPV vaccine, HPV-11, HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-6, human papillomavirus, Pap smear, Pap smears, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, sexually transmitted disease, sexually transmitted infection, STD, STI, vaccine, virus