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The HPV vaccine: preventing cancer for over a decade

June 24, 2020

HPV vaccinationThe human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. It’s so common that almost every sexually active person will get HPV in their lifetime if they haven’t been vaccinated against the virus.

For years, the medical community has known that some strains of HPV can cause certain types of cancer, including cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers. The HPV vaccine has been a groundbreaking development in cancer prevention because it protects against the virus and can stop cancer before it starts.

This June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially approved Merck’s GARDISIL 9, an HPV vaccine for pre-teens and young adults, for the prevention of certain oropharyngeal and head and neck cancers.

This is a big step in cancer prevention because year over year, oropharyngeal cancer caused by HPV has been on the rise. This new approval helps the public understand the severity of HPV, which could help increase vaccination rates and prevent avoidable cancer diagnoses.

Who should get vaccinated?

Despite public health awareness efforts, there is still confusion around who should get vaccinated against HPV. When the vaccine made its debut in 2006, it was approved for girls and young women to prevent the virus and precancerous cervical lesions. We know now the virus can cause several types of cancer in both women and men, but despite a change in recommendations to include both girls and boys, awareness is still lacking. Because oropharyngeal and head and neck cancers affect men five times more than women, this new approval could help get more boys and young men vaccinated against HPV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all boys and girls ages 11-12 get vaccinated to protect against cancers caused by HPV. If you weren’t vaccinated as a child, talk to your health care provider–there are often options for teens and adults.

Funding cancer prevention at the ground level

Dr. Anna GiulianoWe at the Foundation are thrilled to see this vaccine continue to protect generations and prevent cancer for countless people. For 35 years, supporting cancer research has been at the core of our mission.

In 1991, we were excited to accept the research proposal of Dr. Anna Giuliano, a young scientist looking to reduce the instance of cervical cancer through a specialized vaccine. After receiving two grants from the Foundation, her team’s research effectively laid the groundwork to produce the HPV vaccine that’s on the market now.

Looking back on this research, we are honored to have played a part in the development of such a game-changing vaccine, and we are more excited than ever to fund and support the next class of young, innovative researchers.

To learn more about HPV and its link to cancer, visit thinkaboutthelink.org.

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