On Monday, Dr. Kevin Ault, professor and division director of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, presented a lecture about the human papillomavirus vaccine and how he believes it is a missed opportunity for cancer prevention.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain strains of HPV are considered sexually transmitted infections, and some strains can lead to cancer if left untreated. Genital HPV affects an estimated 79 million people in the United States.
Dr. Ault said while the vaccine has been available since 2006, “it is not being pushed by doctors,” resulting in a low level of awareness of both the vaccine and the virus itself.
“Since there is a lot of background research for this vaccine, I don’t know why this vaccine is being treated differently than other vaccines,” Vaibhav Murthy, research technician of biology, said.
In Kansas, Dr. Ault said the lack of doctors enforcing the vaccine leaves more than 60 percent of children vulnerable to HPV, similar to numbers reported in Missouri and Oklahoma.
Additionally, Dr. Ault said the majority of the people in the U.S. being vaccinated are women who have been told the vaccine will protect them from various forms of cervical cancer.
“The cases of male HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and currently 40 percent of HPV cancers are found in men,” Dr. Ault said.
Dalton Dacus, graduate student in microbiology, said he believes HPV-related cancers in males are increasing “because the vaccine was pushed on women.”
“We didn’t know about all of these new diseases and why males were at a higher risk for throat cancers and the research for that until now,” Dacus said.
Dr. Ault said he thinks it is best to vaccinate children between the ages of 11 and 12 years old because it is before most kids are sexually active. He said younger vaccination is preferred, though inoculation often doesn’t occur until an individual is 15 years old or even until they are in college.
“It is better to be protected than to run the risk down the road,” Dr. Ault said.
For more information about STI prevention and treatment methods, make an appointment at Lafene Health Center. Additionally, STI information and statistics are available on the CDC website.