Doctor advocates HPV vaccine for teen girls to prevent cervical cancer

Doctor advocates HPV vaccine for teen girls to prevent cervical cancer
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (Source: WECT)
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Cervical cancer is one that doesn't get much attention. There are no races for a cure—no annual luncheons like the ones held for breast cancer.

Oncologists say that's unfortunate because cervical cancer is one cancer that can be prevented with a vaccine.

"The fact that we have about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer a year is a shame because it's a preventable cancer," said Dr. Lucy Nieves, an gynecologic oncologist at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

Most cervical cancers are caused by various strains of the human papillomavirus also known as HPV. That's a sexually transmitted infection.

The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for females between the ages of 9 to 26.

Nieves says parents are often reluctant to get young girls vaccinated because of the association with sex. But she says girls don't have to have sexual intercourse to contract the virus.

"They associate this vaccine with sexual encounter but studies have shown that up to 60 percent of teenagers that even have not started sexual intercourse, they are positive for the virus because you just need skin-to-skin contact. You don't need to go all the way and you can still acquire the virus," she explained.

The HPV vaccine is not just for girls. The vaccine is highly recommended for boys, too. While cervical cancer does not affect men, HPV is linked to other cancers including oral, anal, and penile cancer. Males, in fact, make up 40 percent of the cancer diagnoses associated with HPV.

The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for males between the ages of 13 to 21.

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