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by William Hanover



As early as 2007, then Texas Governor Rick Perry made a controversial decision ordering all young girls in the state to get a vaccine against a virus that could cause cervical cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, affecting more than 79 million people.

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Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, and several other cancers are linked to the virus as well, including head and neck, anal, penile, vulvar, and vaginal malignancies. According to new research the vaccination series is the best way for young women (and men) to protect themselves against HPV infection and HPV-related cancers.

One of the foremost authorities on the vaccine is  Dr. Lois M. Ramondetta who holds a full time Professor faculty position at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and  is currently the Chief of Gynecologic Oncology at Lyndon Baines Johnson General Hospital, Harris Health System. She has served on the Memorial Hermann and University of Texas M.D. Anderson Clinical Bioethics Committee. Presently she serves on the Cervix Committee of the Gynecologic Oncology Group/National Research Group (NRG).

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One of her passions is to evaluate and eliminate barriers to care for the indigent patients afflicted with gynecologic cancer. She has published over 80 peer-reviewed articles and authored many book chapters on cancer treatment and palliative care.

She has a BA in Religion and a BS in Biology from Emory University.  In 2008, she co-wrote a book with a patient and friend entitled, "The Light Within” published by William Morrow a division of HarperCollins that further explores the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship.



Intown caught up with Dr. Ramondetta after a recent summit at MD Anderson on HPV - related diseases

Intown: What does the latest research show regarding the HPV Vaccine?

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Dr.Ramondetta: The latest research shows it is safe, effective and lasts at least 10 years.  The newest vaccine prevents up to 90 % of the infections from HPV subtypes causing cervix cancer and anal cancer, and approximately 70% of oropharyngeal and tonsil cancers and approximately half of penile cancers.


I: What per cent of people get infected with the HP virus?

DR.: At any one time, approximately 25% of people are infected.  80% of the population will be infected at some time in their lives.

I:…..and ultimately contract cancer as a result?

DR.: A very small percent of people infected will get cancer.

At this point, we don't know how to predict who will clear the infection or not.

We know the immunity from the vaccine is much more potent than natural immunity.

We know immunosuppression and smoking can increase rates of progressive infection, dysplasia and eventually cancer.

We know that almost 26,000 people get cancer caused by HPV yearly in the US alone.

And many more die yearly in the US from cancers caused by HPV than meningococcal infections or pertussis.

I: Are there other ways to prevent infection from the virus?

Dr.: Condoms may help but are not foolproof.  Skin to skin contact -- eg 1st base, second base and third base -- can lead to infections. Intercourse not required.

I: Can you still contract the virus if you have been vaccinated?

Dr.: The most recent vaccine protects against 9 sub types so infection by other high-risk types is possible, but rare.

The other vaccines only prevent 2 or 4 sub types so yes, you can get cancer from other sub types.

Also, at this point, the best coverage is from all three shots given before exposure and when immune system is best able to respond (BEFORE AGE 14) and so delay in giving may cause the vaccine to be less effective

I: At what ages do you recommend being vaccinated?

Dr.: Age 11-12 and completion by age 13 in BOYS AND GIRLS

I: Is it prudent to be vaccinated in the event you have already contracted the virus?

Dr.: Yes, you will still be protected against the other sub types that you have not been infected by. Plus, it may reduce the risk of recurrence of infection.

I: Is there any downside to being vaccinated?

Dr.: NOPE!

I: What are the costs to get vaccinated?

Dr.: NONE. VFC (Vaccines for Children) pays for uninsured. ACA (Affordable Care Act) requires coverage and Adult safety net providers can cover uninsured between 18-26. If all else fails, a company can help in some cases.