Parents and teens should learn about HPV
The Desert Sun Editorial Board • September 22, 2009

If you could give your teenage daughter a vaccination that would prevent her from contracting a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cancer, would you do it?

It's a tougher question than it may seem. While many parents don't want to think about their young daughters becoming sexually active, most will eventually.

And the odds are good they will contract human papillomavirus, or HPV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of women will contract HPV by age 50.

More young women should be aware of HPV and parents should consider getting their children a vaccination.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the leading cause of cervical cancer, which strikes more than 11,000 women in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 4,000 of those women die from the disease.

In California, there are about 1,500 cases and 400 deaths each year, according to the California Cancer Registry.

"If you're young and dating, there's basically a one-in-two chance that person has the HPV virus," said Dr. Lisa Lindley of the Rancho Mirage Women's Health Center.

It is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. However, condoms are only about 70 percent effective in blocking the spread of the disease.

The good news is that in 2006, Merck & Co. Inc., introduced a vaccine called Gardasil that is effective against the strains of HPV that most often lead to cancer. It is most often administered to females ages 9 to 26.

Virginia and the District of Columbia passed laws requiring that girls entering the sixth grade beginning this year receive the HPV vaccinations unless their parents or guardians opt out.

Similar legislation in California failed this year. The Legislature did pass Senate Bill 158, which would require insurance companies that cover cervical cancer treatment also cover the cost of the vaccine. The bill awaits the governor's signature.

The vaccine is given in three injections at $165 apiece. Planned Parenthood administers a vaccination assistance program for low-income women in the Coachella Valley that makes it available with a $25 co-pay for each shot. Planned Parenthood has provided vaccinations for about 1,500 women in San Diego and Riverside counties.

The vaccine has come under the attack of some conservatives who contend it encourages promiscuity.

"Obviously, we're not giving the shot to a 16-year-old and telling them to go out and have sex," Lindley said. "It's not even about becoming sexually active now. You are really vaccinating them against their future."

Parents and their daughters should consider talking to their doctors about HPV.