Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Tackling cancer with a vaccine is a good thing, right?
If you are like most people, you have probably seen television advertisements for a new vaccine called Gardasil. It is being prescribed to prevent cervical cancer, and according to the FDA, it works pretty well. It works by preventing four strains of a sexually transmitted virus, known as human papillomavirus, from ever taking hold. It is these four strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. The message: Take the vaccine early and dramatically reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
As we have been reporting this story, however, I have seen more questions than answers emerge. Let me try and tackle a few. One of the big areas of concern is the age at which girls should get the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for girls 11 and 12 years old, but it can be administered to girls as young as 9. That's young, for sure. But, the research tells us that girls between the ages of 14 and 19 account for 25 percent of all of these infections, which are almost always transmitted sexually. That was a bit of an eye opener for me, a father of two girls. So, the age started to make more sense. What about boys? That was another question. Well, it turns out that a vaccine may be approved in the future for boys as well. The thinking is that if you prevent boys from getting the infection, they are less likely to pass it on to girls, which in turns reduces a girl's chance of cervical cancer.
Not everyone who gets HPV will get cervical cancer. If you do get cervical cancer, though, it is one of the deadlier cancers. Yes, the vaccine does appear to be safe based on an average of 3.9 years of follow-up testing. It does not appear to adversely affect a woman’s fertility in the future.
Where it gets sticky is the call for mandatory vaccination. This may be the most controversial question of all. Perhaps, it is our rugged individualism that makes us question anything that is forced upon us. Perhaps, it is the concern about side effects down the road. Perhaps, it is that we don't necessarily want to have conversations with our 9-year-old girls about why they are getting the vaccine in the first place.
As a doctor, and parent, I would recommend the vaccine for my daughters. I feel the ability to protect them in any way, including from cancer, is my primary obligation. What do you think? Would you recommend or get the vaccine? What are the objections?
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• Going after the Girl Scouts
• Air that you can see, smell and taste
• Don't let fear keep you from donating
• A note on autism
• 100 Black Men take on the challenge
• Who's leading the charge on food outbreaks?
• Behind the veil of autism
• Just plane scared of flying...
• Imaging the pre-criminal mind
• My mom sets the pace at 81