A vaccine that helps prevent cancer? Say whaaaaaat? It’s the only thing we have like it, and the results so far are promising. It’s been out since 2006, and a study that was released last year showed a 29 percent decrease in the diagnosis of invasive (spreading) cervical cancer in the 15-24 year old female age group, and in the 25-34 year old female age range, a 13 percent drop — and that’s just in a little over 10 years!
But what is it? Gardasil is a vaccination that helps prevent cervical cancer by reducing infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is a virus (no cure available, just vaccine prevention) that is transmitted through intercourse, either oral, vaginal or anal. There are hundreds of types of HPV, but only a few are highly associated with causing cervical/vaginal/vulvar/rectal cancer. Gardasil 9, the most current version of the vaccine, protects against the seven most common strains of the virus that cause cancer and two that cause genital warts. It’s recommended for both boys and girls ages 11-12, well before they are sexually active (hopefully!).
Wait: It’s recommended for boys too? Yes! While it does reduce the risk of penile cancer (which is really rare), the aim is to reduce the amount of HPV being transmitted to women as well. And because many rectal cancers are caused by HPV infection, it can protect against this as well for those who participate in anal intercourse.
And just because it is recommended to receive the series at age 11-12, it is not too late for many people to request this vaccination, even in the case that they may already have one of the strains of HPV. It was recently approved up to age 45 for both male and female patients. But it is best to start the series before the age of 15, mainly to save yourself a poke: If started before age 15, you only need two doses instead of three.
But perhaps you’ve heard that the Gardasil vaccine makes you pass out and get really sick? Yes, the Gardasil vaccine does have a risk of causing syncope (passing out), and there are a lot of reasons we think that is. The biggest reason is, look at the group we are vaccinating — teenage boys and girls. They don’t always respond to pain well (shots hurt), and when they stand up after the shot, sometimes blood rushes to their feet. When this happens you can pass out, which is why we recommend that you sit in the office for 15 minutes after the shot to avoid this. Sometimes after vaccines you can feel kind of run down, have a headache, etc., but it CANNOT give you the infection. This is just your immune system reacting to the vaccine, just like it is supposed to to help protect you in the future.
Something I often hear in my practice is, “My kid isn’t going to be sexually active until they are married, they don’t need this! It’s like giving them permission!” While I really, really hope you are right, I also see enough teenagers to know that what parents think and what kids are doing, especially in these situations, are two different things. It is NOT permission, and our goal is to protect them well before they need it.
Bottom line: I believe in the Gardasil vaccine. I was fully vaccinated when it came out in 2006, and my girls will absolutely receive the vaccines when they are of age. It is the ONLY vaccine that we have to prevent a CANCER. How awesome is that?
About Dr. Amanda Magrini
Amanda Magrini, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician at Northern Nevada Medical Group’s Los Altos location in Sparks. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Nevada, Reno and her medical training at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Dr. Magrini has practiced family medicine for seven years, including residency, and enjoys her specialty, because she likes taking care of the whole family, from newborns to grandparents. She likes preventative medicine, helping people take care of themselves and the relationships she is able to form with her patients. Dr. Magrini grew up in Sparks, NV and likes that it is a safe place to live with great educational opportunities and beautiful scenery. She thinks Northern Nevada is a great place to raise a family and looks forward to raising her own children here. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, camping, boating, running and traveling the world. Dr. Magrini is also very close with her family; she is married to her high school sweetheart and values spending time with him and the rest of her family. Disclosure: “The author is a licensed physician practicing with Northern Nevada Medical Group, but all opinions expressed are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Northern Nevada Medical Group or any other affiliates of Universal Health Services, Inc.”