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Vaccine can help protect against cancer

A vaccine has proven effective in preventing certain types of cancer.

The challenge is getting people to take it, according to Dr. Dylan Graetz at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“This is a big public health threat that can be prevented if people take the vaccine,” said Dr. Graetz. “There are a lot of things you can’t protect your kids from. This is one of the things you can.”

The vaccine protects against HPV, which stands for human papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

HPV can create all types of health issues with a main problem being genital warts. Most alarming, HPV can lead to certain types of cancer such as cervical, mouth and throat cancer.

“A little shot is nothing when compared to cancer treatments,” said Dr. Graetz. “The message here is really simple – get vaccinated. Our goal was for the U.S. to be 80 percent vaccinated by 2020. But we’re falling short of that goal, especially in rural areas, and we want to see those numbers increase. In the U.K., the vaccination rate is 90 percent.”

The vaccine is recommended for anyone, but Dr. Graetz said health officials are targeting adolescents who have an entire life of sexual activity ahead of them.

“The earlier you get vaccinated, the better,” said Dr. Graetz. “If you get it under 15, it’s just two shots. If you get it over 15, it’s three shots.”

Dr. Graetz said most pediatrician offices and health departments offer the HPV vaccine. She noted the vaccine is covered by many insurance companies.

Dr. Graetz is a Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Fellow, conducting research in global pediatric medicine.