Hardly a Shot in the Dark

Though a proven deterrent against cervical cancer, few young women take HPV vaccine

(RxWiki News) A study from the University of Maryland has found that few eligible young women choose to take the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, and, of those who do, relatively few take the recommended three doses. HPV is a known cause of cervical cancer.

The study, led by J. Kathleen Tracy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology, looked at more than 9,600 young and adolescent women in the Baltimore area and found than less than 30 percent of those eligible took the vaccine, despite strong evidence suggesting the vaccine prevents cervical cancer. Many physicians recommend young women and girls from 12 to 26 years old take the vaccine.

Tracy said the majority of these women don't complete the three recommended series of doses, meaning these women remain unprotected or underprotected against strains of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer.

HPV ranks as the most common sexually transmitted disease among teenage girls in the U.S. Nearly 30 percent of sexually active 14- to 19-year-old females are infected at any one time. Persistent infection with certain strains of the virus have been shown to cause cervical cancer.

E. Albert Reece, M.D. vice president of medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine said this research highlights public health concerns about whether this at-risk population is adequately protected against HPV and cervical cancer.

Reece also said vaccination against HPV doesn't eliminate the need for annual cervical cancer screening.

In the study, which took place from August 2006 until August 2010, a total of 2,641 young women (27.3 percent) began the vaccination process. Some 39.1 percent completing one dose, while 30.1 percent completed two doses, and 30.78 percent completed all three doses. Women aged 18 to 26 were least likely to complete dosages with African-American women less likely to complete vaccination than Caucasian women.

In 90 percent of HPV cases, the body's immune system clears the virus within two years, but certain types of HPV can cause genital warts in males and females, and cervical cancer in females. Although much less common, certain strains of HPV can also cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck (tongue, tonsils and throat).

A physical symptom sometimes occurring with HPV includes genital warts, which can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Diagnosis is usually made after an examination of the genital area in these cases.

January is Cervical Cancer Screening Month. Regardless of vaccination status, it is vital for sexually active young women to be tested, so encourage screening for someone you love, or schedule an examination yourself.

After all, the life you save could be your own.