Cancer prevention for kids? It’s worth a shot!


If you knew a vaccination was available that would prevent certain cancers in your child, would you get your child vaccinated? Amazingly, such a vaccine exists, yet the majority of children in the U.S. have not received it. With 7 out of 10 youths missing this vaccination, every year “4,400 future cervical cancer cases and 1,400 cervical cancer deaths will occur,” says Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH.

The vaccine that could prevent these cancers is a three-dose series that prevents the human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of common viruses that can result in a variety of diseases and cancers—cervical cancer being just one of them. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 14 million people in the U.S.—almost half of whom are young people ages 15 to 24—get a new HPV infection every year, making HPV almost as rampant as the common cold.  Whether that exposure results in cancer is a game of chance better avoided—and easily prevented.

This week, the President’s Cancer Panel released its Annual Report 2012-2013, making a strong case for accelerating HPV vaccine uptake and urging action to prevent cancer. According to the report, “In 2012, only 33 percent of adolescent females and less than 7 percent of males across the U.S. had completed the three-dose series. These low vaccination rates reveal countless missed opportunities to prevent cancers and other serious diseases.” If the cost to human lives is not enough, the report also says, “The combined cost of HPV-associated cancers and other conditions is estimated to be $8 billion per year in the United States.”

Although overwhelming evidence shows that the HPV vaccine is safe, many factors may stand between kids and these potentially life-saving, cancer-preventing vaccines, including failure by a health care provider to recommend the vaccine, perceptions by parents that the vaccination isn’t necessary, or a parent’s lack of knowledge about the vaccine or the diseases caused by HPV, just to name a few.

“There is an enormous amount of conflicting and confusing information about vaccines out there,” says Sophia Yen, MD, adolescent medicine specialist at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine. “We’re here to help parents get the facts they need to make a well-informed, evidence-based decision for their child,” Yen says.

Knowing the best timing for the vaccine series is also important. “The HPV vaccination elicits a stronger immune response in younger kids,” says Yen, “so it’s best to give children the series of shots at the recommended age of 11 or 12,” even though they’re unlikely to be exposed to HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, until later in life. “The goal is to give the vaccine series at the time when it is likely to establish the best protection against the disease, so that kids are optimally protected .”

Ask your doctor today about your tween or teen’s HPV vaccine status.  If you are in Silicon Valley and do not have a primary care doctor for your teen, contact our Teen and Young Adult Clinic in Mountain View or find one of our Stanford Medicine Children’s Health pediatricians in your area.