Though it is so preventable that young people now can be all but immunized against it, cervical cancer still kills more than a quarter million women annually.
Most of the victims are in developing nations. But nearly 13,000 American women last year also were diagnosed with cervical cancer. More than 4,000 died, even though Pap screenings are a routine part of annual checkups for women in this country, and even though teenagers have, since 2006, had access to an FDA-approved inoculation against the virus that causes the disease.
There is no good reason for this lethal public health gap in a First World country, and it’s time we got rid of the bad reasons, the biggest of which stem from – what else? – misinformation and partisan politics. Because of baseless fears whipped up by culture warriors and vaccine resisters, parents are preventing young people from being vaccinated, at great potential health risk.
At issue is inoculation against the human papillomavirus, which causes not only cervical cancer, but can also cause anal, oral and throat cancers and cancers of the genitalia.
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HPV is sexually transmitted, but can be prevented with a vaccine typically administered in three doses to adolescents. In the decade since that vaccine was introduced, according to a study this week in the journal Pediatrics, it has cut the prevalence of HPV by almost two-thirds in teenage girls and by more than a third in women in their 20s.
This is a huge public health win. Indeed, health experts have recommended since 2011 that adolescent boys, as well as girls, be inoculated. But a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 40 percent of teenage girls and only 22 percent of teenage boys had received all three doses of the HPV immunization.
Why? Anti-vax left-wingers, who generally fear inoculations, and repressed right-wingers, who fear that kids might have premarital sex if they don’t have to worry about cancer. Research has shown that the vaccine is safe and has no impact on teenage sexual experimentation. Still, this foolishness has undercut public health efforts in some states and has depressed vaccination rates.
This thinking must change. No child should risk cancer for the sake of parental politics. And no American should squander an opportunity that, in less privileged nations, would be welcomed as a lifesaving gift.