Doctors call HPV vaccine necessary, abstinence-favoring parents disagree

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AURORA, Colo. -- It's an adult topic, but doctors say children need to be included in discussions about the Human Papilloma Virus and the dangers that go along with it.

Dr. David Raben of CU Hospital is one of the leading experts on HPV related head and neck cancers and says, "we're expecting anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 new cases over the next year or two."

Dr. Raben Says the rapidly rising trend would likely reverse, with the help of a vaccine. “It has the potential ability to reduce cancer worldwide by 30 to 40 percent over the next 15 to 20 years."

There are several vaccines recommended for children ages 11 to 12, but not all parents are in favor. Summer De Min has three young children and says, “I think it's too much.” While watching her children play at Wash Park in Denver, De Min says she fears side effects and, “I think it's a solution to not having to teach your child things like abstinence."

De Min is not alone in those concerns, but Dr. Raben says, “The data clearly supports that this is a very safe vaccine, as safe as all the other vaccines we give to our children.” Dr. Raben also points out some of the dangers associated with avoiding vaccines.

“As you know, when we don`t give vaccines we get trouble," Raben said. "A perfect example of that is the whooping cough outbreaks we saw around the country, because kids were not getting vaccinated.”

As far as cancers caused by HPV, there is a silver lining in that they do respond well to treatment. That being said, doctors at CU Hospital are on the cutting edge. Traditional radiation therapy can leave patients with trouble swallowing, even hearing loss for the rest of their life, but CU Hospital is one of the only centers in the region using technology that gives patients a better quality of life after treatment.

Dr. Raben says, “We`re able to curve the beams around critical swallowing structures now," Raben said. "We`re able to curve the beams around the inner ear to protect those areas for hearing.”

That's something that wasn't thought possible just five years ago.

“This is, in a way, personalized radiation therapy,” Raben said, where doctors can look at certain tumors and “paint” varying levels of radiation over them. It’s called intensity modulated radiation treatment.

“The reason we’ve become more elegant about what we do is we know people are going to live a lot longer with these types of side effects," Raben said.

But, despite major strides in treatment of HPV related cancers, Dr. Raben says it can all be avoided with a simple injection as a child.

“We’re already seeing a drop in those cancer rates in Australia, because they’ve been doing the vaccine longer than we have in the United States," Raben said. "So I think it is effective and it’s going to show that over the next 15 years.”

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