The HPV Vaccine Lowers Rates of Cervical Cancer—and This Study Shows It

If you didn’t believe that vaccinating young girls against certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) is worthwhile, a new study may convince you otherwise.

The study, presented last week at a conference on “The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved,” shows that states with the highest incidence of cervical cancer in 2012 also had the lowest rates of HPV vaccinations.

For example, in Florida there were 9.4 cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women, while 39 percent of girls started the three-dose vaccination regimen. In comparison, in Massachusetts, where 69 percent of girls got at least one HPV shot, only 6 women out of 100,000 developed the disease.

HPV can also cause vaginal or vulvar cancers in women, penile cancer in men, and anal, mouth or throat cancer in either sex. However, relying on data from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute, the researchers did not find any statistical link between vaccination rates and HPV-related cancers in boys. Also, some states did not show a positive correlation between lower rates of vaccination and higher rates of disease.

Nonetheless, the research gives weight to the Department of Health and Human Services’ goal to boost HPV vaccination rates to 80 percent over the next five years. Unfortunately, some parents are uncomfortable about giving the vaccination to their presexual daughters—and some pediatricians are uncomfortable discussing it with the parents—because of the false notion that it will somehow stimulate sexual activity. According to a 2012 study, it made no difference in sexual behavior if girls were or were not vaccinated at ages 11 and 12. Said Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital,

There’s science behind giving it at age 11—it’s not just about moral or family choices, or a child’s choice for sexual debut. The immune response is better if you give it to an 11-year-old.

Ms. has been publicizing the HPV vaccine since 2005. And we’ve stuck by it despite controversy. It’s good to have science to back up the reasoning that this vaccine can contribute to women’s health and save lives.

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Photo courtesy of PAHO/WHO licensed under Creative Commons 2.0


Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms.


The late Michele Kort—a dedicated feminist—was the senior editor of Ms. magazine for 13 years. She died June 26, 2015, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She worked for decades in field of journalism, covering sports, music, culture, art and feminist issues for publications like LA Weekly, The Advocate, Shape, Redbook, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Songwriter, InStyle, Living Fit, Fit Pregnancy, Vegetarian Times, Fitness, UCLA Magazine, Women's Sports and Fitness and more. She is the author of four books, including a biography of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro. Rest in power, Michele.