Vaccine for HPV can prevent cancer

By Gautam Prasad, M.D., Ph.D.:

In recent years, physicians and scientists have made considerable strides in research and development for vaccines to treat cancer.  Long used to treat infectious disease, cancer vaccines attempt to induce your body’s own immune system to fight the cancer on its own.  These experimental cancer vaccines are meant to be used in patients who already have cancer.  These studies have generated a lot of publicity in the media and many of my patients ask me about them.  However did you know that there is already a vaccine on the market that helps prevent cancer in the first place?

In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine to prevent cancer.  Named Gardasil, the vaccine prevents infection by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is known to cause cancers of various sites including the cervix, vagina, anus, and oral cavity.  In 2009, a second vaccine for HPV named Cervarix was approved.  Both vaccines target four subtypes of HPV which are known to cause cancer. These vaccines are also very safe, both having undergone rigorous clinical trials in the United States.  Thus far over 25 million vaccinations have been dispensed.  Ideally, these vaccines are to be used in men and women from ages 9 to 25.  However, vaccination up to age 45 may also be reasonable and you should discuss this possibility with your doctor.

As a practicing oncologist, I often see patients go through long and difficult treatments for cancer which frequently involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.  It can have a devastating impact on their lives, relationships, and finances.  Many patients ask me, “what could I have done differently to avoid getting cancer”?  Frequently, there is no easy answer because cancer is simply the result of a series of genetic mutations which can occur randomly.  We do know, however, that certain activities can contribute to cancer such as smoking.  Smoking rates in the United States have dramatically dropped since this causative link was established.  Since we have a similar causative link between cancer and HPV infection, shouldn’t it be prudent to take measures to prevent the latter?

I would strongly encourage my patients and the public to have their children vaccinated against HPV.  I would also recommend young adults to discuss the possibility of vaccination with their doctor. A vaccine given early in one’s life can prevent an early demise from cancer and an untold personal, psychological, and emotional toll.

Dr. Gautam Prasad is a Radiation Oncologist with Epic Care, a group of experts in the diagnosis and comprehensive treatment of cancer and blood disorders.