HPV vaccine will prevent cancer for young women

Liz Stoever

Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented. Only recently have doctors discovered that a virus called human papillomavirus, often referred to as HPV, causes virtually all cervical cancer cases. Now that the FDA has approved a vaccine against HPV, preventing cancer will be even easier for women.

Politicians in states across the country are not taking this new discovery lightly. More than 20 states have introduced a plan to make the vaccine a requirement for girls at middle-school age or younger. The vaccine, which commonly comes in three shots over a six-month period, will cost $120 per dose.

Since most middle schoolers aren’t even sexually active, parents are complaining that a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease isn’t necessary. Other parents seem to be outraged simply because they think they should be dictating what happens to their daughters and not the government.

What parents fail to notice is how common the virus is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 80 percent of women will have a genital HPV infection by age 50. It also doesn’t matter how much parents may try to keep their daughter chaste until marriage. Their daughters’ decisions are out of their control, and these days, chastity until marriage is unlikely.

While in most cases, the human immune system gets rid of the virus, approximately 10,000 women of the 20 million people currently infected with HPV will develop cervical cancer, according to the CDC.

So why not be safe rather than sorry? Having a child vaccinated earlier ensures the child will not get the virus at any other time of her life. When middle schoolers receive the vaccination, not only are they protecting themselves, but they are also protecting their future sexual partners from getting the virus. This vaccine can stop the spread of HPV before it has the potential to get worse.

If women are given the chance to reduce their own risk and the risk of their daughters from getting infected with HPV, they should take advantage of it.

CNN reported Feb. 2 that Texas Gov. Rick Perry strongly stands behind his decision to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for girls entering sixth grade starting in fall 2008, making Texas the first state to do so. Perry also plans to make the vaccine free for women ages nine to 18 who are not covered for the vaccine or not insured. Florida lawmakers also want to introduce this mandate, along with 20 other various states.

Clearly, women who have not already been vaccinated for HPV will greatly benefit from doing so. There are no symptoms for the virus, so it is also beneficial to get tested not only for yourself, but also for other people who it could potentially spread to.

In the long run, if a mandate for this vaccine is enforced, the number of women with cancer-causing HPV will be reduced exponentially. The sooner this mandate is enforced, the better. It is a decision that will ultimately save lives.

Liz Stoever is a guest columnist for the Northern Star of Northern Illinois University. It was made available through U-Wire.