Expert: Michael Douglas reignites HPV vaccine debate

June 10, 2013 at 2:17 AM
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BOSTON, June 10 (UPI) -- Hollywood's Michael Douglas saying some oral cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus reignited the debate on children's HPV vaccine, an expert says.

Dr. Robert I. Haddad, leader of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's head and neck oncology program, said both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the American College of Pediatrics recommend girls and boys ages 11 or 12, before they have had sexual contact, be vaccinated against HPV.

Despite a good safety record, a study in the journal Pediatrics found from 2007-2010, the concerns of parents about side effects of the HPV vaccine more than tripled from 5 percent to 16 percent among parents who didn't intend to get their teenage daughters vaccinated. Most said the vaccination wasn't necessary.

"We are clearly seeing an epidemic of HPV-related head and neck cancer -- the numbers are rising dramatically. HPV is a cause of many cancers, so it is really important to support endeavors to vaccinate," Haddad said in a statement.

"A decade ago, patients with head and neck cancer were smokers or heavy drinkers. Now, only 20 percent are smokers or drinkers, and the other 80 percent have an oropharynx cancer caused by an HPV infection."

HPV has more than 100 strains, including HPV-16 and 18, which are aggressive, high-risk, sexually transmitted -- via oral sex -- and have been linked to certain types of cervical or head and neck cancers, Haddad said.

HPV infection is a major cause of oropharyngeal cancer, which effects the base of the tongue, the tonsils and the walls of the pharynx.

This year, about 14,000 U.S. adults -- many in their 40s and 50s and 3-out-of-4 will be male -- will be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer, Haddad.

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