Vaccines have been a point of contention in recent years, resulting in outbreaks of preventable diseases. But perhaps none has been more stigmatized than the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. Because HPV spreads so easily and can have lifelong consequences, it’s important to cut through the noise online.
“HPV is a virus which can infect people, become incorporated into human cells, and cause changes which may lead to the development of cancers of the genital tract, rectum, and head and neck,” Eva Chalas, MD, physician director at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Winthrop Hospital, told POPSUGAR. “Vaccination of young people who have not been exposed to the virus and have a healthy immune system offers more than 90 percent protection from infection by the HPV virus.”
The problem? Relatively few Americans who are eligible to get the vaccine do. Meanwhile, “other countries like Australia — where HPV vaccination is mandatory in school — have already reported dropping rates of HPV-related cancers,” Dr. Chalas explained. “We need to stop lagging behind.”
While even the smallest risk of developing cancer should be enough to deter anyone from skipping the vaccine, there are also risks for those whose cases of HPV never get that far. “Treatment of precancerous lesions of the cervix in young women results in increased risk of pregnancy loss and premature delivery because the treatment often involves shortening the cervix by removing a piece of it,” Dr. Chalas said. As for the cases that do progress to cancer, “many are treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy,” she explained. Even in the best-case scenario, “these have long-term side effects.”
Yet despite the vaccine being incredibly safe and necessary, misinformation continues to spread, fueling a dangerous reluctance to vaccinate. “This will result in vulnerability to developing HPV-related cancers, risk of suffering consequence of treatment of these cancers, and lives lost since not all patients affected by the cancers associated with HPV will be cured,” Dr. Chalas said. “This is a perfect example of the old adage, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'”
Keep reading to see some of the most common myths surrounding the HPV vaccine and learn why everyone should be protected.