The vaccine for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, can prevent the contraction of various strains of HPV that can develop into cancer. Doctors recommend the vaccine for males and females between 11 and 26 years old.

File photo

The vaccine for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, can prevent the contraction of various strains of HPV that can develop into cancer. Doctors recommend the vaccine for males and females between 11 and 26 years old.

Taking down cervical cancer

— Cervical cancer used to be one of the primary killers of women in the U.S. But, due to regular Pap smears and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, those numbers have dropped dramatically.

On average, about 12,000 women each year are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s a reason why women should continue to get regular Pap smears, said Jim Summers, a fellow of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Moffat County obstetrician.

“The Pap smear was one of the first real health initiatives that made a difference,” Summers said.

But more recent advances include the HPV vaccine that can help prevent certain cancer-causing strains of HPV.

HPV is “one of the few viruses that has ever been shown to cause a cancer,” Summers said.

Patty Hanley is a public health nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, and she regularly provides HPV vaccinations to Craig residents.

The sexually transmitted disease is now the leading cause of cervical cancer, Hanley said. About 75 percent of cervical cancer cases can be traced back to HPV.

But the vaccine can help prevent the virus that leads to cancer, Summers said.

“There’s over a hundred types of HPV. We know that a dozen or so of them are directly linked with cancer and a dozen or so are linked to genital warts,” he said. “Those are the ones targeted by the vaccine.”

That’s why Hanley is an open advocate for the vaccine.

“To have a vaccine that prevents against cancer is pretty incredible,” she said.

But the vaccine also has been controversial since it is associated with an STD. Hanley wants to set aside those concerns with pragmatism.

“We don’t recommend the vaccine to recommend sex,” she said. “We recommend it to prevent disease.”

The FDA approved the vaccine for people ages 11 to 26, Hanley said. She recommends the vaccine to girls age 11 and older because she wants to protect them from the virus well before “experimentation.” HPV can be passed along by skin-to-skin contact, she said.

Summers also recommends this vaccine be given to boys and men as a further effort to get rid of HPV.

“The vaccine is going to give immunity to the dangerous players we know about right now. It should be given to boys and girls,” he said. “But we’ve got a long way to go before this vaccine eradicates this virus like it has with smallpox and measles.”

The VNA offers cost-adjusted Pap smears and HPV vaccinations to Moffat County residents who want to take care of their cervical health.

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@craigdailypress.com.

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