Thursday, March 28th, 2013
The vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer among other ailments, is in the news again after a survey published in the journal Pediatrics announced that the overwhelming majority of girls have not received the vaccine despite the urging of major medical groups. The New York Times has more:
Just 35 percent of girls 13 to 17 have received a full course of the vaccine, which inoculates against the strains of human papillomavirus that can cause cervical cancer, according to 2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a study in Pediatrics this month, also based on C.D.C. data, says the intent to vaccinate is declining: 44 percent of parents in 2010 said they did not intend to vaccinate, up from 40 percent in 2008.
Alarmed by the stubbornly low rates, doctors and federal health officials are brainstorming about how to get more children vaccinated.
“Behind these numbers are people who will develop cervical cancer that could have been prevented,” said Dr. Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program Office at the Department of Health and Human Services. At a meeting in Washington last month, federal and local officials, doctors and other health workers explored ways to make the shots more accessible. Some suggested giving the first of the three doses required to complete the vaccine at a doctor’s office and the other two at schools or pharmacies.
Others argued for a greater emphasis on cancer prevention, playing down the fact that the vaccine prevents a sexually transmitted disease. The STD link has put off many parents who are loath to talk about sex with their children.
Image: Girl getting a shot, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
A survey of parents has found that many teenagers are not receiving vaccine boosters that are readily available, proven safe, and important protectors against serious but preventable diseases. CNN.com reports:
“These vaccines are safe and effective and people should really have their teens get them,” says Dr. Paul Darden, lead author of the study and professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. “Parents say pediatricians are telling them about the vaccines, yet they just don’t seem to understand why they are necessary or are skeptical about their safety.”
When parents of teens were asked why their children didn’t receive certain forms of the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) and meningitis vaccine, some parents noted these shots were not recommended or not necessary, according to the study. Others did not have a reason.
Regarding the controversial and fairly new vaccine that protects against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus – which has been linked to cancer – some parents also said it was not necessary. In other cases parents noted their children were not sexually active or were not the appropriate age to receive the vaccine.
Concerns of mothers and fathers about the safety of the HPV vaccine grew each year, from 4.5% in 2008 to 16.4% in 2010, according to the study. The number of parents who said they would not vaccinate their children for HPV increased from 39.8% in 2008 to 43.9% in 2010. The main concern was safety.
Investigators were surprised, because the vaccine has been found to be very effective in preventing the virus that causes cervical cancer in young women.
“We thought perhaps many parents would think the HPV vaccine would give kids permission to have sex, and therefore not allow their children to get it. But that wasn’t it,” explained Darden. “They seemed to be skeptical of its safety, which is odd, because it’s shown to be effective with few side effects. We have a vaccine that protects against cancer. Why not vaccinate your child? I don’t get it.”
Image: Teen girl getting a shot, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, October 24th, 2012
Most women only need Pap smears, the most common screening test for cervical cancer, every 3 to 5 years, according to a new set of guidelines by the nation’s largest OB-GYN association. The Associated Press has more:
Many medical groups have long recommended a Pap test every three years for most women. The new advice from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that’s true for women ages 21 to 29 whose Paps show no sign of trouble.
But for healthy women ages 30 to 65, the preferred check is a Pap plus a test for the cancer-causing HPV virus, the group concluded. If both show everything’s fine, they can wait five years for further screening.
The guidelines from the nation’s largest OB-GYN organization agree with advice issued earlier this year by a government panel, the American Cancer Society and other medical groups — showing growing consensus that it’s safe for the right women to wait longer between Paps.
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Cervical cancer grows so slowly that regular Pap smears, which examine cells scraped from the cervix, can find signs early enough to treat before a tumor even forms.
Image: Gynecologist, via Shutterstock
Thursday, October 18th, 2012
The vaccine against human papillomavirus, which is the sexually transmitted virus that raises the risk of cervical and other cancers, has been a source of controversy among some parents who worry that vaccinating young girls and boys will inadvertently teach them that sex is permissible and safe. But a new study published this week in the journal Pediatrics has found that having the vaccine does not alter sexual behavior at all. The New York Times reports:
Looking at a sample of nearly 1,400 girls, the researchers found no evidence that those who were vaccinated beginning around age 11 went on to engage in more sexual activity than girls who were not vaccinated.
“We’re hopeful that once physicians see this, it will give them evidence that they can give to parents,” said Robert A. Bednarczyk, the lead author of the report and a clinical investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Southeast, in Atlanta. “Hopefully when parents see this, it’ll be reassuring to them and we can start to overcome this barrier.”
HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States, can cause cancers of the cervix, anus and parts of the throat. Federal health officials began recommending in 2006 that girls be vaccinated as early as age 11 and last year made a similar recommendation for preadolescent boys. The idea is to immunize boys and girls before they become sexually active to maximize the vaccine’s protective effects.
Image: Tween girl and boy, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, August 23rd, 2012
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been studying the ongoing decline in the number baby boys who are circumcised, concluding that the drop could mean increased health care costs, to the tune of billions of dollars. The study comes as a growing number of states’ Medicaid insurance programs are cutting coverage for the procedure. Time Magazine reports:
Studies link circumcision with numerous health benefits: the procedure is associated with lower risks of urinary tract infections in babies and young boys, and reductions in men’s risk of contracting HIV, genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV); it may also help reduce the odds of penile and prostate cancers. By reducing the burden of sexually transmitted infections among men, it may also help keep more women infection-free as well.
If circumcision rates were to drop from the current 55% to 10%, urinary tract infections in baby boys may rise a whopping 212%, and in men, HIV infections could increase by 12%, HPV infections by 29% and herpes simplex virus type 2 by 20%. In women, dropping rates of male circumcision could increase cases of bacterial vaginosis by 18% and low-risk HPV by 13%.
As gaps in insurance coverage increasingly lead parents to opt out of circumcision, the researchers say a drop to 10% is not unlikely — that’s in line with circumcision rates in Europe, where the procedure is typically not covered by insurance. Medicaid programs in many states have eliminated coverage of the procedure: currently, 18 states no longer pay for it, with South Carolina and Colorado most recently ending coverage last year. According to the study authors, the rate of circumcision rates had remained steady at about 79% between 1970 and ’80, but fell to 63% in 1999 and then dropped again to 55% in 2010.
Image: Newborn boy, via Shutterstock
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