Cancer Prevention through a Vaccination

Apr 26 7:23am | Lonnie Fynskov | @lonniefynskov

During this past year the word vaccination became a daily occurrence in the news as we listened for updates related to the coronavirus. Some people anxiously awaited the day when they would be eligible to receive their shots while others chose not to participate in the covid-19 vaccination programs. The reasons for these decisions are varied and individual but also have the potential of affecting those around the person making the decision. The news media also offered information about the difference between a vaccination versus an injection used to treat an illness. The first being preventive in nature while the second having a goal to reduce the effects of a disease once it has been acquired.

April is “Head and Neck Cancer Awareness” month and you may be hearing about the importance of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. Many people think of cervical, penile or other genital cancers in relationship to HPV so why would we highlight it during “Head and Neck Cancer Awareness” month? In past years, head and neck cancers were typically diagnosed in older patients with a history of tobacco and alcohol use. But in recent years, younger generations are more often being diagnosed with types of head and neck cancer, even without a history of tobacco or alcohol use. Some of these cancers are the result of HPV.

There are numerous types of HPVs; some are low risk for cancer development and others are considered high-risk. Thanks to research, the high-risk types of HPV have a vaccine available that may prevent the associated cancers. In addition to cervical and other genital cancers, approximately 13,000 cases of oral and throat cancer are caused every year by HPV. The HPV vaccine can prevent certain types of HPV infections that cause the majority of these HPV-related cancers, but it is only effective if it is given. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those 13,000 annual head and neck cancers would never develop? To work best, the vaccine should be given to both males and females at or before age 11 or 12. Kids in that age group are not making this decision for themselves. This is another opportunity to make a decision that could potentially save someone from a devastating diagnosis down the road. Need more information about HPV vaccinations as a means of cancer prevention?  Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society may have the answers you are seeking.

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