The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently reported highly encouraging news. Data from the Cancer Statistics 2023 reported that women aged 20 to 24 who were the first to receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine showed a 65% reduction in cervical cancer incidence rates from 2012 through 2019.
The report, published in the ACS journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, showed that the cancer mortality rate in the U.S. has dropped by a third in the past three decades with an estimated 3.8 million deaths averted thanks to improved early detection measures, effective treatments like immunotherapies, and a decrease nationwide in smoking rates.
This is great news, as it shows that HPV vaccination has the potential to virtually eliminate cervical cancer and other types of cancer incidence and outcomes, along with all the other conditions associated with HPV.
Let’s take a look at how exactly this vaccine helps protect against cervical cancer.
How the HPV vaccine works
In 2006, females ages 9 to 26 started receiving the HPV vaccine for the first time. Although incidence rates were already declining because of screening, the HPV vaccine accelerated this progress. Among women ages 20 to 24, cervical cancer incidence rates declined by a total of 33% from 2005-2012 and by 65% from 2012 through 2019.
The HPV vaccine works by preventing infection from some of the more common types of HPV that cause about 90 percent of cervical cancers and several other cancers, such as cancers of the anus, mouth and throat, vagina, vulva, and penis. It also protects against 2 types of HPV that cause cases of genital warts.
The HPV vaccine does this by prompting an immune response in your body to start producing antibodies to fight off any potential infections from those types of viruses. These antibodies will remain in your system for a long time after you get vaccinated, so if you come into contact with any of those viruses, your body will be able to fight them off before they become a problem.
The HPV vaccine success story
In 2006, the FDA or the Food and Drug Administration approved the first HPV vaccine for girls and young women ages 9 to 26. Now that group of young people are now adults, and cervical cancer rates in early 20s have dramatically dropped compared with screening alone.
Even unvaccinated individuals in this age group are noted to have benefited from what appears likely as herd immunity-like effects with regards to virus reduction and spread throughout these population groups. The impact has already been remarkable according to Dr. Elizabeth Platz, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, “It’s a cancer that we could almost eliminate through the combination of screening and vaccination.”
Prevent cancers with screening and HPV vaccine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 13 million people become infected with HPV each year in the United States. It recommends that both boys and girls get two doses of HPV vaccine starting at age 11 or 12 years old. However, teens an young adults through age 26 who haven’t been vaccinated should get the HPV vaccine as soon as possible, although they may need an extra dose of the vaccine for the delayed start.
The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to preteens and teens, as it helps them build up immunity before they are sexually active. It’s also important for people in this age group to have regular screenings for cancers caused by HPV – like cervical cancer, anal cancer, and oral cancer. Screenings such as Pap tests help detect precancerous changes caused by HPV before they turn into full-blown cervical cancer.
This combination of regular screening and the HPV vaccine is a powerful tool to help prevent several types of cancer. Educational campaigns have also made significant progress towards increasing awareness about why receiving the vaccine is important and encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated.
Reduce your cancer risks
It’s clear that getting vaccinated against HPV is an important step in protecting yourself from cervical cancer and other related illnesses and conditions associated with HPV infection. With continued emphasis on preventive measures like screenings and vaccinations, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from ever having to face a diagnosis of cervical cancer or other illnesses associated with HPV infection.
Visit a Nao Medical location near you and talk to one of our healthcare providers about screenings that help identify possible risks and get vaccinated right away. This can go a long way towards safeguarding your health and wellbeing.