By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - October 02, 2020
If you’re a parent who is on the fence about vaccinating your child against human papillomavirus, there is new evidence showing that HPV vaccination can substantially reduce a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer, especially when administered at a young age.
The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, used nationwide registry data in Sweden for more than 1.6 million girls and women ages 10 to 30. The group was followed from 2006 — the year the country approved the HPV vaccine — to 2011. Of that group, nearly 528,000 had received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine, most before the age of 17.
After accounting for age and other factors, a reduction in cervical cancer incidence of 88% was observed in women vaccinated prior to age 17 and 53% among women vaccinated at 17 or older. This dramatic decrease in cervical cancer incidence occurred after only 11 years of introducing the vaccine in the country. The data indicates that the optimal time to vaccinate is when children are younger but that it is not too late to benefit from vaccination at older ages.
Dr. Anna Giuliano, an HPV expert and founding director of the Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center, says parents should take note of this study.
“We have long touted HPV vaccination as cancer prevention. Studies have shown the vaccine protects against HPV infection and cervical precancers, which in turn prevents cancer. But this study offers proof that the vaccine prevents invasive cervical cancer,” said Giuliano.
HPV is a group of more than 100 viruses, 14 of which are linked to an increased risk of developing cervical, throat, anal, vulvar, vaginal, penile and head and neck cancers. For the Swedish study, the HPV vaccine approved for use in that country protects against four types of the virus known to cause cancer. In the United States, a newer version of the vaccine, Gardasil 9, is available and provides protection against nine types of HPV commonly known to cause cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccination for boys and girls ages 11 to 12 but the vaccine can be administered as early as age 9. It is covered by most health insurance plans, and many state health departments offer the HPV vaccine for free or at a reduced cost.