KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Kansas Cancer Center is joining nearly 70 other cancer centers in sounding an alarm about the high number of children who are not being vaccinated against a virus that causes cancer.
Kansas ranks last in the nation in the percentage of girls who have received the HPV vaccine, and Missouri isn’t far behind. Fewer than half of girls in both states receive the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both states also rank low for the number of boys who are vaccinated, The Kansas City Star reported.
“It absolutely breaks my heart,” says Terry Tsue, physician-in-chief at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. “We have two vaccines against cancers that are caused by virus, the hepatitis B vaccine and the HPV vaccine. Otherwise, we don’t have a vaccine that prevents cancer.”
Tsue said he is stunned by what people don’t know about HPV and noted that roughly 70 percent of parents apparently don’t know that the vaccine is recommended for boys as well as girls.
In addition to preventing so-called “female” cancers — cervical, vaginal, vulvar — the vaccine also prevents cancer of the throat, which three times as many men as women get from HPV, he said.
Twenty percent of patients with HPV-related throat cancers die within five years, he said. Eighty percent of men and women in the U.S. will be infected with at least one type of HPV at some time in their lives, he said.
“Our practitioners aren’t aware of the magnitude and this kind of tsunami of cases,” said Tsue, a head and neck surgeon. “Throat cancer related to HPV is growing up to 5 percent a year. No other cancer is growing like that. And it will surpass cervical cancer caused by HPV by 2020.”
Health professionals are battling misinformation and misconception among the public, Tsue said.
Many parents mistakenly think HPV has something to do with HIV, while others equate the vaccine with sex because the virus is most commonly transmitted sexually. It also can be transmitted without sexual contact.
Parents have responded to polls by saying their children don’t need the vaccine because their children aren’t having sex. Some also believe that having their children vaccinated will somehow give them free rein to have sex or will promote promiscuity, though studies have shown that’s not the case.
“So your 10-year-old who has no idea what the shot they’re getting is will subsequently go out and have sex the next week because they got a shot that prevents the HPV virus?” says Tsue. “That’s (what) we’re dealing with.”
Fear of the vaccine’s safety is among the most frequent reasons parents give for not having their children vaccinated, according to a study in Pediatrics in 2013.
The medical community considers the vaccine one of the safest around.
“All this bad press about vaccines, how it kills people, how it causes autism, all false,” says Tsue.
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