|Robert I. Haddad, M.D., chief of Dana-Farber’s head and neck oncology program. (Photo courtesy of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)
The human papillomavirus or HPV is the world’s most common infection spread through sexual contact. Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. The virus is so common that at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.
Most of the time, HPV has no symptoms so people do not know they have it, but it can cause serious illness. HPV has been associated with several types of cancer, including cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, as well as head and neck cancer. Each year in the United States about 18,000 HPV-associated cancers affect women. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. About 7,000 HPV-associated cancers affect men in the U.S. each year and most are cancers of the head and neck.
The vaccine Gardasil has proven to be effective against the HPV virus in males and females. It is administered in a series of three injections over a six-month period. The best way a person can be sure to get the most benefit from HPV vaccination is to complete all three doses before beginning sexual activity.
Though previously administered only to girls, in October 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted overwhelmingly to recommend vaccinating boys against HPV.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which helps set standards for childhood and other vaccinations, voted to bring the recommendation for boys in line with that for girls. The recommendation makes the vaccine routine for boys starting at 11 or 12.
“We are clearly seeing an epidemic of HPV-related head and neck cancer — the numbers are rising dramatically,” said Robert I. Haddad, M.D., chief of Dana-Farber’s head and neck oncology program. “HPV is a cause of many cancers, so it is really important to support endeavors to vaccinate.”
“I advise my patients with HPV-related cancers to vaccinate their children against HPV — both boys and girls,” said Haddad. “There is a misconception that only girls should be vaccinated and that is the wrong approach. We strongly believe that both boys and girls should be vaccinated against HPV.”
For more information on HPV vaccination, visit www.dana-farber.org.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.