Cancer is a nearly universal health concern in our lives; it would be difficult to find anyone whose life has not been touched by the disease, in all its various and horrifying forms. This year alone, the American Cancer Society reports that 1.6 million people in the U.S. will develop cancer, and nearly 600,000 will die from it.[1]  HPV, or the human papillomavirus, causes an estimated 19,000 of those cases in women, and just under half that in men.[2] HPV is a common disease transmitted through sexual contact, which is usually known for causing genital warts and, once contracted, is incurable.[3] HPV is best-known for causing cervical cancer, but it is also associated with cancer in the head, neck, anus, and genitals of both sexes. But though it cannot be cured once contracted, the variant of the disease which leads to cancer can very easily and effectively be prevented by readily available vaccines.

It would make sense if the vaccine were commonly administered, then, but in fact the U.S. still lags very badly in HPV vaccination. Just a little over half of preteen girls – and only a third of young boys – have received even one of the three required doses of the vaccine, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[4] In comparison, Rwanda has 80 percent of its young women vaccinated for HPV, and in Australia the number approaches 100 percent among girls.[5] Why is it that a medical choice that should be obvious is instead woefully uncommon in one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world?

When the HPV vaccine Gardasil first entered the public consciousness,  there was a lot of noise made about how vaccinating against an STI could encourage promiscuity in teenagers. This claim has since been thoroughly debunked; HPV vaccination leads to no noticeable increase in adolescent sexual activity.[6] Though we might blame lingering fears about the vaccine on parents who have not heard about or have ignored that bit of information, it turns out that this is far from the case; even in areas of North Carolina where rates of cervical cancer were higher than normal, a survey found that only 16 percent of parents believed that claims of HPV vaccination leaving their children feeling more inclined to have sex held water.[7] A 2012 survey by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that 40 percent of adults who objected to HPV vaccination without a parent’s consent had moral or ethical concerns about the HPV vaccine, but without more specific reasons listed it is difficult and likely incorrect to say those objections were entirely related to some sort of sex panic.[8]

Instead, it seems as though the people giving the American public medical advice have failed to educate parents about the urgency and necessity of the HPV vaccine. In the previously cited C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital survey, only 35 percent of US adults believed that the HPV vaccine was safe or necessary for adolescents, despite the scientific consensus that the vaccine needs to be administered early to ensure that it is in effect by the time teenagers begin to experiment sexually. The CDC also reported that in 2012 84 percent of girls who had not received an HPV vaccination had received some other vaccination during that time, suggesting that doctors do not make vaccinating against HPV as much of a priority in their discussions with their young patients’ parents as they do other vaccines.[9]

CDC Director Tom Frieden estimated in 2013 that 50,000 girls who could have been vaccinated against HPV would instead develop cervical cancer as a result of being infected by it.[10] Make no mistake: any vaccination that can prevent cancer, especially in such numbers, is as essential as the rest of the usual run of shots we give our children to keep them healthy. The CDC recommends that all children 11 or 12 years old receive the HPV vaccine series, but young men and women can receive the vaccine until their 20s if they were not vaccinated earlier.[11] It is recommended for boys and girls alike – while boys have half the cancer rate from HPV that girls do, the virus still causes a significant number of cancer cases, and vaccination against HPV also keeps them from passing the virus to their sexual partners. If you would like more information on this disease, its relation to cancer and its prevention through vaccination, the CDC has an excellent resource hub for HPV information here.


[1]{C} American Cancer Society, 2014, Estimated Number of New Cancer Cases and Deaths by Sex, US, 2014. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[2]{C} Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013, New study shows HPV vaccine helping lower HPV infection rates in teen girls. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[3]{C} Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014, Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[4]{C} Nicholas St. Fleur, 2014, US Teens Still Lag in Getting Vaccinated Against HPV. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[5]{C} James Hamblin, 2013, The Cancer Vaccine. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[6]{C} Catherine Pearson, 2012, HPV Vaccine Does Not Increase Sexual Activity: Study. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[7]{C} Schuler CL, Reiter PL, Smith JS, and Brewer NT, 2011, Human papillomavirus vaccine and behavioural disinhibition. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[8]{C} University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 2012, Public reluctant to support teen HPV vaccination without parental consent. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[9]{C} Newell E. McElwee and Karen Woomer, 2014, The Hidden Adherence Problem: HPV Vaccination Series Completion Is Not as Easy as 1, 2, 3. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[10]{C} Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013, New study shows HPV vaccine helping lower HPV infection rates in teen girls. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

[11]{C} Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014, HPV Vaccine – Questions & Answers. Available at:, accessed 8/25/2014.

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HPV VACCINE: PREJUDICE AND MISCONCEPTIONS by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Elektra Christensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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