One shot can help defend against cervical cancer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 24, 2009

NATCHEZ — With human papillomavirus one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases among the general population — and one that causes cervical cancer — most local medical professionals are in support of the vaccination Gardasil.

While more than 100 types of HPV exist, Gardasil protects against the four most commonly found in cases that result in genital warts or can lead to cervical cancer, Natchez Women’s Center Nurse Practitioner Kappi Rushing said.

Gardasil is recommended for females, ages 9 to 26, and the shot is highly recommended for females who are not yet sexually active, Rushing said.

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And with HPV easily and commonly transmitted, she said she recommends it to all her patients.

Dr. Tom Carey, who works for Natchez Regional Medical Center’s OB/GYN office, said the reason HPV can be so rampant is that males can carry the disease, but they often have no symptoms.

“It’s pretty uncommon,” he said of males having symptoms. “So they’ve got it, they’re infected, they don’t know it, and they’re spreading it,” he said.

Carey said 35 percent of sexually active teenagers have HPV, and Rushing said by 26 years old, 50 percent of sexually active females will have been exposed to the disease.

And it’s the females who most commonly show symptoms of HPV, and Rushing said it’s happening younger and younger.

She said she sees female patients at age 16 or 17 who come into the office with physical evidence of HPV.

“It just breaks your heart,” she said.

Aside from protection from a sexually transmitted disease, Gardasil also offers protection from cervical cancer.

Carey said this is the first vaccine created to aid in preventing cervical cancer.

“(Gardasil) is certainly ground breaking in the aspect of cervical cancer prevention,” Carey said. “Before now, we had nothing except for close follow up.”

He said he advises his female patients to receive the vaccination, which consists of three shots within a six-month timeframe.

“As far as we’re concerned, we’re wholeheartedly trying to get them to take it,” Carey said.

The pitfalls of Gardasil are the same as any other vaccination, Rushing said.

Soreness or tenderness at the injection site is the most common, as well as a feeling of weakness and dizziness.

“Anytime you have a shot, you tense up right before you get it, and that’s your own body’s defense mechanism,” Rushing said.

That’s why Rushing recommends to her patients that they remain seated in the waiting room 15 minutes after receiving the shot.

“The benefits far outweigh the risks,” Rushing said.

Rushing said there have been some misconceptions regarding Gardasil, such as someone who is vaccinated with it can get HPV.

But Gardasil contains no live viruses, she said.

Also, some patients have been worried that the vaccine could cause weight gain or disrupt menstrual cycles, but again, she said those concerns have no basis.

“There are no hormones in (Gardasil,)” she said.

Gardasil is only for the prevention of the four common strains of HPV; it is not a treatment.