Thanks To Drop In HPV Rates, A Generation Of Women Won’t Have To Fear Certain Cancers

A generation of young women, the first to be vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), will enter adulthood with a smaller chance of developing cervical, vaginal, anal, and throat cancers.

A new study, released Monday, has confirmed that rates of the STD have dropped since the vaccine for two strands of the virus were recommended for young girls 10 years ago, USA Today reported. Debbie Saslow of the American Cancer Society described the milestone in dramatic terms.

“It means there’s going to be a whole lot less disease. Then 10 years later, that’s when we are going to start to see the cancers drop.”

Back in 2006, health officials began to recommend that young girls and women get vaccinated, and in 2011, they recommended the same for young men. HPV is the most common STD in the U.S., with 79 million Americans suffering from the infection, the Guardian reported.

That’s a big deal when you consider that two subtypes are linked to most cancers caused by the STD. And so a decade ago, a three-dose vaccine was developed to target those subtypes and two additional types. By 2014, 98 percent of people who received the vaccine got all three doses.

Ten years after the first HPV vaccine was administered, rates of the STD have dropped significantly for 20-something females. Reports released earlier showed that infections dropped among teen girls, even though they weren’t vaccinated en masse. This latest study shows the same drop in rates for those aged 14 to 24.

Data on the men is not yet available. Lead researcher Lauri Markowitz said the data was expected and the impact should get even better.

“We are seeing exactly what we would expect — that the first impact would be seen in the youngest age groups and, then as they age into the older age groups, we would see an impact on young women. But we would see greater impact with greater vaccine coverage.”

The report was based on interviews and medical tests that were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys administered by the federal government. Study authors compared survey results from two time periods, 2003 to 2006 (before the vaccine) and 2009 to 2012 (after it was administered, and the most recent data).

In the later of the two time periods, half of teens and 33 percent of women got at least one of the doses. The data showed that as a result, HPV rates have dropped 64 percent from figures 10 years ago. For those in their 20s, rates dropped 34 percent.

More specific data was detailed by USA Today, which reported on the infection rates of targeted HPV strains.

  • For all girls 14-19, 4.3 percent — dropped from 11.5 percent.
  • For all women 20-24, 12.1 percent — dropped from 18.5 percent.
  • 2.1 percent among sexually active girls and women 14-24 who were vaccinated vs. 16.9 percent among those who were not.

However, the vaccination hasn’t exactly been popular with parents, who in the beginning worried that the shot would encourage their kids to have sex. That fear was stoked when girls as young as 12 were told they should be vaccinated.

And even today, parents are worried about side effects, and doctors U.S. aren’t encouraging the HPV vaccination equally.

When Dana Zillgitt was 16, her pediatrician waved off her questions, telling her she was just a child and not sexually active. He didn’t recommend the shot. She went ahead and got one dose anyway, but wondered if she should’ve gotten all three after she was infected with HPV and a test uncovered abnormal cervical cells. Luckily, it wasn’t cancer.

“It’s a scary thing when the doctor says you have an (infection) that could potentially lead to cancer.”

But now that HPV rates have dropped, a whole new generation will be growing up in a future in which they don’t have to fear certain types of cancer.

[Image via absolutimages/Shutterstock]