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Cancer and politics

The shot that stops cancer: The politics of sex and the prevention of HPV

Austin Photo Set: News_Jeffrey Kreisberg_shot that stops cancer_Nov 2011_getting a shot

I don’t like Rick Perry—never voted for him and worked actively to try to oust him—but in 2006 he tried to do something good for young girls in Texas. He tried to mandate vaccinations for sixth grade girls with a drug that prevented HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), the devil behind cervical cancer.

This is the virus that is responsible for the deaths of 4,000 young women each year in the United States. When Perry announced his mandate, the pervasive “shit hit the fan” and his conservative base (which is most of the state) went ballistic. The social conservatives objected to the vaccine as an infringement on parental rights, and small government conservatives were alarmed at Perry’s aggressive use of executive power.

Needless to say, Perry backed off and the vaccine was off to a miserable start. Six years later, fewer than 33% of girls ages 11 to 26 have received all three doses of the HPV vaccine and Perry is still paying a political price for it.

Well, it now appears that boys aren’t “immune” from HPV’s effects. After all, girls have to get infected from somewhere, right? Doctors observed that young men were getting throat cancers that were usually seen in older, tobacco-using men. Also, there was an increase in anal cancers. Who do you think the culprit behind this was? HPV.

It turns out that HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted disease: between 75 and 80 percent of men and women will become infected in their lifetimes. It can cause genital warts and cancers of the base of the tongue and tonsils, as well as genital cancers in women. Half of all men are infected with HPV—and they don’t even know it.

The infection is so prevalent in men that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that all boys ages 11 and 12 be vaccinated for HPV. They also recommended vaccinations of males 13 to 21 who have not had all three shots.

You don't want your son diagnosed with stage four throat cancer 20 years from now when it could have been prevented.

Throat cancers are most commonly spread through sexual contact, and some doctors believe an increase in unprotected oral sex is the cause for the rise. Some still hold the belief that, if it’s not vaginal sex, it’s not “really” sex (did Bill Clinton once say this?).  According to researchers in 2004, there were nearly 4,000 to 4,500 cases of HPV-related oropharynx cancer in men and women. The number of cases is expected to double to 8,500 by 2020. It's a treatable, but disfiguring disease.

A shot to prevent cancer

Parents, this is something all of us have dreamed about: a vaccine that prevents cancer! A few shots and no cancer or painful biopsies!

Put away your fears that the vaccine is unsafe or will result in promiscuous behavior. This is one of the safest vaccines out there; it does not cause autism or "mental disabilities." The studies claiming that vaccines cause autism were later retracted and the doctor lost his license to practice medicine because of professional misconduct. And, "mental disabilities"? Those are due to genetic abnormalities during development.

And, as far as the vaccine causing promiscuous behavior goes? I'm not sure how that's possible. I suppose if you explain to your kids that the shot prevents a sexually-transmitted disease, they might make the connection. But what parent explains shots to their children? Did you explain to your 11 year old the significance and ramifications of the DTP vaccine? I didn't. I took them to the doctor and they got the shot. Period.

Parents, kids have sex—one in five boys and girls have had vaginal sex by the age of 12. Don't deny them protection against disabling and potentially life-threatening cancers that affect both men and women just because you're uncomfortable talking about sex with your kids. That's just bad parenting.

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You can read more from Jeff on his blog, Taking Control of your Healthcare.

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