Lauren Fant, left, 18, winces as she has her third and final application of the HPV vaccine administered by nurse Stephanie Pearson at a doctor's office Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007, in Marietta, Ga. The groundbreaking vaccine that prevents cervical cancer in girls is gaining a reputation as the most painful of childhood shots, health experts say.
(USA TODAY) -- A vaccine against the human papillomavirus has decreased the
incidence of the cancer-causing virus among teenage girls by 56%,
despite being available since only 2006, a study released Wednesday
"Today we have really good news," said Thomas Frieden,
director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "These are
The human papillomavirus (HPV), which is
sexually transmitted, can cause genital warts, cervical cancer and
throat cancer. The CDC recommends that all girls get the vaccine at age
11 or 12 to protect them against cancers that can appear 20 to 40 years
About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and
early 20s, are infected with HPV. Each year, about 14 million people
become newly infected. About 19,000 women in the United States get
cancer caused by HPV each year, cervical cancer being the most common.
can also get cancer from HPV. Each year about 8,000 men get these
cancers, mostly in the throat. The CDC began recommending in 2011 that
boys over 11 also get the vaccine.
The vaccine is also recommended for older teens and young adults who were not vaccinated when they were younger.
The study was published in the June issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
"This is an anti-cancer vaccine," Frieden said. "We owe it to the next generation to protect them against cervical cancer."
Frieden expressed concern that only one-third of girls 13-17 have gotten a full course of three HPV vaccine injections.
low vaccination rates represent 50,000 preventable tragedies: 50,000
girls alive today will develop cervical cancer over their lifetime that
would have been prevented if we reached 80% vaccination rates," he said.
"For every year we delay in doing so, another 4,400 girls will develop
cervical cancer in their lifetimes."
The study used data from the
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to compare the
proportion of girls and women 14-59 who had certain types of HPV before
and after the vaccination program began. Among all girls and women ages
14-19, the rate of infection was 56% lower in the period 2007-2010 than
it was in 2003-2006.
Doctors aren't sure why the decline is so
great, given that only 46% of young women have received at least one
dose and only 32% have received all three. It could be what's called
herd immunity, in which the vaccinated women lower the overall amount of
the virus in the population, thus lowering infection rates for
everyone, said Lauri Markowitz, lead author of the study. "This decline
is encouraging, given the substantial health and economic burden of
HPV-associated disease," she said.
The findings are welcome, said
Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American
Cancer Society in Atlanta. "What's surprising is just how much HPV
infection has gone down in so little time."
The United States is
far behind other countries in how many teens get the vaccine. She said
in countries such as Australia, where 70% to 80% of teenage girls are
vaccinated against the HPV virus, health officials have seen a
significant decline in genital warts in young women and a decline in
abnormal Pap smears, which are an early precursor to cancer.
parents have balked at having their children and teens vaccinated for a
sexually transmitted disease out of concern that it could encourage
sexual activity. Frieden said the vaccination is meant to protect them
when they become adults.
"We vaccinate well before people are
exposed to an infection," he said. "We vaccinate for measles, for
example, early in childhood or infancy because that's well before a
child may get exposed. Similarly, we want to vaccinate children well
before they may get exposed."
Some cancer researchers believe the
vaccine is not used as broadly here as elsewhere because of Americans'
discomfort with sex.
"Some doctors don't go out of the way to
recommend it because they want to avoid talking about sex or they think
the parents want to avoid talking about sex," Saslow said.
The American Cancer Society and the CDC are trying to change that thinking.
Saslow said, "It's not called the 'cervical cancer prevention vaccine.' Maybe it should be."