Many children are not being vaccinated against a cervical cancer virus because their parents don't know enough about the vaccine, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician warns.
Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the common sexually-transmitted virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Two HPV vaccines are currently available and approved for use in females ages 9 to 26, and males ages 9 to 21.
Because HPV isn't a pediatric disease, parents often think the vaccine isn't necessary or it's given to children when they're too young, said Dr. Robert Jacobson, a senior researcher and pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center.
"We want to give the vaccine when the body is best likely to respond to it and frankly children 9 to 12 are better responders to the vaccine than they are at 15 or 16," he said. "And 15 to 16 are better to respond to it than 18- to 21-year olds."
In the United States, about one-third of girls ages 13 to 17 have been fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"No one knows when they've had it; no one knows when they've cleared it," said Jacobson, who co-authored an editorial in the journal Expert Review of Clinical Immunology
"And overwhelmingly most people infected, will eventually in two years time, clear it," he said. "Only a small percentage go on to have the cellular changes that lead to cancers."
Annually, about 19,000 cancers caused by HPV occur in women in the United States. About 8,000 cancers caused by HPV occur each year in men in the United States.