The HPV vaccine can protect your children from cancer

This is a “guest post” written by a mom in our practice, Marcy Parker. At her son’s recent checkup I learned that her husband has advanced throat cancer—a cancer that could have been prevented with a vaccine. This vaccine, Gardasil, is recommended for all children starting at age 11. If you’ve been “on the fence” deciding whether to get this vaccine, please read Ms. Parker’s account. Some cancers can be prevented. You owe it to your children to make sure they’re protected with this safe and effective vaccine.

 The HPV Vaccine – for Boys?

In February 2013, I sat around a table with three of my closest girlfriends, and we debated the HPV vaccine.  At the time, we all had 11-year-old boys.  While the vaccine has primarily been promoted to help prevent cervical cancer, the CDC had recently approved it for boys as well.  Which left us confused – why would we get our boys vaccinated for cervical cancer?

There were varying opinions at the table.  At the time, I was a firm no on the vaccine.  One of my girlfriends was a firm yes.  The other two were open-minded.

Exactly one year later, the four of us sat around that exact same table.  But this time, I came to the table after spending 5 hours that day with an oncologist and radiologist.  My husband had just been diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer.   The origin of his cancer?  HPV.

Since then, we’ve learned there has been a dramatic increase in the number of HPV throat cancer cases over the last decade.*  It typically hits people like my husband, otherwise healthy, mid-life people who have been in long term monogamous relationships.  My husband has never smoked.  He is an exercise fiend triathlete who eats a healthy diet.  Yet he could be the poster child for this disease.

The fact that we are living in a house with a cancer patient and a potential vaccination candidate at the same time hasn’t been lost on us.

The incidence of throat related HPV cancers is projected to overtake cervical cancer by 2020.*  By the time the CDC has enough data to promote the HPV vaccine as a preventative against throat cancer, it’s likely our kids are going to be outside the vaccination window.

During his treatment, my husband lost 34 pounds.  He spent 2 months being fed intravenously.  He has a stomach tube.  He was hospitalized for 12 days, so sick and drugged he has little to no recollection of his time there.  The treatment plan has been brutal.

After our experience, the decision to vaccinate our boys for HPV became a relatively easy one.  One of the blessings we’ve clung to throughout this process is that he has been the one fighting this disease, not our kids.  And if a three shot vaccine helps improve the odds they’ll never have to live through a similar diagnosis, it’s a shot we’re willing to take.

*SOURCE: The CDC projects 26,900 cases of HPV-related cancers each year, and less than 40% of this is cervical cancer. Within a few years, it’s projected that the incidence of throat cancer will overtake that of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is not just for girls.