January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and sometime this year, a life saving vaccine against cervical cancer will most likely become available to the public. The vaccine is 100% effective in protecting females against the two strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) which are known to cause cervical cancer. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection, which has multiple types. Two of these are known to cause cervical cancer.
World health authorities say cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after breast cancer. In developing countries, more women of reproductive age die of cervical cancer than any other form of cancer. In the U.S., the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 4,000 women will die from cervical cancer this year. The U.S. rates are much lower due to the common screening practice for cervical cancer with the Pap test.
The vaccine would need to be given to preteen girls before they begin any sexual activity. Many groups are advocating that vaccinations for cervical cancer be required just as the vaccines for whooping cough and measles are required.
This is where the controversy begins. Many groups oppose the required vaccination because they feel it sends a subtle message that encourages sexual activity.
On the pro side of requiring the vaccine:
- Research at Indiana University reported that four of five sexually active adolescent girls were infected with HPV.
- Women who practice abstinence until marriage can still contract HPV from husbands who were not abstinent.
- The vaccine is virtually 100% effective in preventing the transmission of HPV, the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.
Opponents of requiring the vaccine believe:
- Adolescents may think you just need to have a shot and you can be as sexually promiscuous as you want with no problem.
- Sabotages the abstinence message to teens (which can prevent AIDS/HIV).
- Sends a message that sexual activity is expected.
The vaccine is expected to be approved for use in 2006. Government and health officials continue to work toward the policy for use of the vaccine. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you and your family.
For more information about any cancer concern, contact:
Cancer Information Service
Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center
UI Hospitals and Clinics
200 Hawkins Drive, 4802 JPP
Iowa City, Iowa 52242