There are really few ways to keep your children from contracting cancer. Make sure they don’t smoke. Keep them out of the sun. Watch their weight and maintain it at healthy levels. Don’t let them near radiation.
And vaccinate them against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes over 5% of the cancers world wide. Gardasil, which is now a more powerful anti-cancer vaccine, is available throughout most of the world and is indicated for use in girls and boys to prevent a variety of dangerous and disfiguring cancers. Lots of people think there are magical supplements and foods that prevent cancer, but there’s little or no science that supports it. If you want a magical prevention, there’s nothing better than getting Gardasil (known as Silgard in some parts of the world).
Parents who wouldn’t be considered to be antivaccination are frequently reluctant or even solidly negative to giving their children the HPV vaccine. Admittedly, some of the reluctance about the vaccine is based on some misinformation and outright myths about the safety of the vaccine. Without a doubt the HPV vaccine is extremely safe as shown in several huge epidemiological studies of young men and women who have received the vaccine. And we know that the vaccine prevents HPV infections.
However, one of the enduring myths about Gardasil is that it causes teens and young adults to engage in risky sexual behavior because they think they’re protected from the consequences of that behavior.
Let me speak as a father of three girls, two of whom are teenagers, and one a young adult. I would love to safeguard them from everything I could. I would hire the US Army to protect them, if I could. If I thought that Gardasil, or anything, would cause them to be more sexually active, including engaging in risky behavior, I’d run away away from the vaccine as far as I can.
But there’s one more thing. Most of the myths and misinformation about Gardasil are nonsense, based on biologically implausible beliefs. I know that Gardasil doesn’t kill. I know that it doesn’t cause this or that, because there is no plausible biological mechanism for the HPV vaccine could do any of that. And large studies have pretty much demolished the “Gardasil is dangerous” legend.
However, sexual behavior is much more complex, and I often wonder about the thinking of a teenager (and trust me, that’s not an easy topic of study, if you have any experience with teenagers) after getting the vaccine. Teenagers often think they are immortal and super men and women (as I did when I was a kid–why else would I skydive to get a date?)–so I could be convinced that there is some plausibility to Gardasil causing risky sexual behavior.
But the great thing is that we can look to science to help understand and uncover any correlation between the Gardasil vaccine and sexual behavior. High quality research has already shown that HPV vaccines are not related to sexual activity in 11 and 12 year olds.
A new study, just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, examined health databases in Ontario, Canada to determine if there was some correlation between sexual behavior and the HPV vaccine. Beginning in 2007, all 8th grade girls in Ontario, around age 13, were offered all three doses of the HPV vaccine. Only about half of those girls were actually vaccinated with all three doses.
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Using health databases in Ontario, the researchers studied more than 128,000 girls, half of whom were eligible for the vaccine in school. The researchers were able to examine the health records of those girls, finding that by the time they reached grades 10-12, more than 10,000 of the girls became pregnant, while 6,000 had contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But the girls who had been vaccinated were no more or less likely to experience pregnancy or an STI than those who had not been vaccinated, the researchers reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The authors concluded that:
We present strong evidence that HPV vaccination does not have any significant effect on clinical indicators of sexual behaviour among adolescent girls. These results suggest that concerns over increased promiscuity following HPV vaccination are unwarranted and should not deter from vaccinating at a young age.
In terms of epidemiological studies, this is well controlled with a huge number of subjects. With so many participants, even small changes would be detected, and the researchers found no difference in behavior.
Maybe you think that your son or daughter will never contract an STI like HPV. That relies upon a lot of assumptions that may simply not be true. Maybe your child will never have sex until they’re married, but HPV is highly infectious, it’s possible that their future spouse isn’t HPV-free. With the high rate of sexual assaults on girls and women, a horrifying thought for me as a father of daughters, there’s a high risk of HPV transmission during violent assaults. And no matter how much you protect your children in a titanium bubble with filtered air, things happen. Predicting behavior of kids is nearly impossible, so vaccinating them against HPV “just in case” is the best thing a parent can do.
Let’s be clear. The HPV vaccine is safe. The HPV vaccine prevents several cancers, almost a miracle drug. And it does not turn your sons and daughters into sexually promiscuous kids. Our children deserve every chance at avoiding cancer, and this simple, safe, and highly effective vaccine can do it.
- Bednarczyk RA, Davis R, Ault K, Orenstein W, Omer SB. Sexual activity-related outcomes after human papillomavirus vaccination of 11- to 12-year-olds. Pediatrics. 2012 Nov;130(5):798-805. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-1516. Epub 2012 Oct 15. PubMed PMID: 23071201.
- Smith LM, Kaufman JS, Strumpf EC, Lévesque LE. Effect of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination on clinical indicators of sexual behaviour among adolescent girls: the Ontario Grade 8 HPV Vaccine Cohort Study. CMAJ. 2014 Dec 8. pii: cmaj.140900. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25487660.