Preventing Cancer With The HPV Vaccine
- Val Kilmer, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014; had a tracheotomy and also underwent chemotherapy to treat his disease, has admitted to behaving “poorly” before going public with his diagnosis.
- Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer where cancerous cells begin in the throat, voice box or tonsils. It is an HPV-related cancer. To reduce the risk of your children developing HPV or an HPV-related cancer, make sure they get the HPV vaccine, particularly between ages 9 and 12.
- Nearly every sexually-active person will get the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in their lives. And this virus puts both men and women at risk of developing several cancers including cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus and throat.
- While the HPV vaccine is traditionally administered to adolescent girls, teenagers, and young women, older adults who don’t have HPV can still very much benefit from receiving it as well.
As National Cancer Prevention Month is upon us, it’s important to take action either by making healthier choices, scheduling doctor appointments, or deciding to get vaccinated.Read More
His confession came years after he got into a “physical pushing match” back in the 90s with director Joel Schumacher, according to Entertainment Weekly. Additionally, actor Caitlin O’Heaney previously told Buzzfeed that Kilmer “punched” her during an audition in 2017.
Despite his behavioral issues in the past, Kilmer appears to be enjoying his life through art and doing well, especially since reprising his role as Lieutenant Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky for “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Last month, it was announced that the new Top Gun sequel received six Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
“Top Gun: Maverick” received a Best Picture nomination, alongside “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “Elvis,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Fabelmans,” “Tár,” “Triangle of Sadness,” and “Women Talking.”
Val Kilmer’s Throat Cancer Battle
Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 but didn’t speak publicly about the disease until 2017.
He wasn’t considering conventional treatment at first, thinking his Christian Science faith would heal the tumors, but he eventually agreed to undergo chemotherapy for the sake of his children – Mercedes, 31, and Jack, 27, whom he had with his ex-wife, English actress Joanne Whalley, 61.
Kilmer also underwent a tracheotomy – a surgical procedure that connects the windpipe to a hole in the front of the neck – which greatly impacted his speaking voice.
And though he originally kept his cancer battle out of the public eye, Kilmer eventually shared more about his journey through interviews, his memoir, I’m Your Huckleberry, and his documentary, Val, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
“I have been healed of cancer for over four years now, and there has never been any recurrence,” he wrote in I’m Your Huckleberry. “I am so grateful.”
Understanding Throat Cancer
Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer where cancerous cells begin in the throat, voice box or tonsils. Some of the main risk factors for this disease include smoking, drinking alcohol, a diet lacking in fruits or vegetables, acid reflux disease and the human papillomavirus (HPV). So, one way to decrease the chances of developing the disease is to get the HPV vaccine.
Adding His Voice to the Chorus – Artist and Throat Cancer Survivor Michael Rees Gets Behind HPV Vaccine Awareness
The American Cancer Society recommends that boys and girls get the HPV vaccine between ages 9 and 12. The organization also stresses that teens and young adults through age 26 who are not already vaccinated should get the HPV vaccine as soon as possible.
Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, explained the link between throat cancer and HPV in a previous interview with SurvivorNet.
Get the Facts: What Do We Know about HPV-Linked Throat Cancer?
“There are no screening guidelines to screen for throat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears. And there are no standard tests to determine if you harbor the (HPV) virus,” she said. “However, there is no concern that you’re going to spread this cancer to your partner or to anyone else, because at this point your partner has already been exposed to the virus and likely cleared it.”
There’s no annual screening for throat cancer, so doctors usually discover the disease when a patient sees them with symptoms that may point to it. Some symptoms include:
- A cough
- Changes in your voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ear pain
- A lump or sore that doesn’t heal
- A sore throat
- Weight loss
It’s important to note, however, that these symptoms are not exclusive to throat cancer. Still, you should always see a doctor if you have any changes to your health.
Head & Neck Cancers & HPV: The Connection
It’s much more common to know someone who has a head or neck cancer now-a-days than it was several decades ago. And that’s because of its strong connection to HPV — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.
“From the 1980s to the 2010s, the rate of HPV-related head and neck cancers has gone up by 300 percent,” Dr. Ted Teknos, a head and neck cancer specialist, and president and scientific director of University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio, told SurvivorNet during a previous interview.
The vast majority of humans in the United States — both men and women — will eventually get infected with HPV, according to Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai.
“The important thing to know about HPV is that there are many different strains, and only a couple of them tend to be more cancer-inducing,” he said. “Probably less than 1 percent of the population who get infected happen to have the cancer-causing virus that somehow their immune system fails to clear, and over 15 to 20 years it develops from a viral infection into a tumor, and cancer.”
It’s unclear whether HPV alone is enough to trigger the changes in your cells that lead to throat or mouth cancer, or whether this happens in combination with other risk factors like smoking. Of course, some people who develop throat or mouth cancers have no known risk factors for the condition. Genetics can play a role in this cancer, too.
Related: Should Children as Young as 9-Years-Old Get The HPV Vaccine?
Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?
While the HPV vaccine is traditionally administered to adolescent girls, teenagers, and young women, older adults who don’t have HPV can still very much benefit from receiving it as well.
The HPV vaccine is approved in the U.S. for people up to age 45, though it’s recommended that children get it before they become sexually active, as HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. Gardasil 9 protects against nine strains of HPV – including the strains most likely to cause cancer and genital warts. But it can’t provide protection if a person has already been exposed to HPV. That’s why doctors recommend it for children as young as 9.
Throat and oral cancers are unique in that they’re usually preventable with the HPV vaccine. And that’s why those eligible should get vaccinated against HPV, SurvivorNet experts say.
And contrary to some detrimental misinformation circulated online, the HPV vaccine is entirely safe.
HPV and Cancer Risk The Basics
There are virtually no side effects with this vaccine, Dr. Jonathan Berek, director of the Women’s Cancer Center at Stanford Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet. It is “incredibly safe,” he added.
HPV is responsible for 34,800 cases of cancer in the U.S. each year, but 90% of them can be prevented thanks to the HPV vaccine Gardasil.
“Both boys and girls should be vaccinated with HPV to prevent cervical cancer in women, throat cancer in men, as well as anal cancer in both men and women because those are HPV-related malignancies as well,” Dr. Teknos, the scientific director of the Seidman Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
“If you look at the percentage of patients who developed throat cancer, really, cancer of the tonsils and the base of the tongue, in the 80s compared to the 2010s, if you will, the rate of HPV-related head and neck cancers has gone up by 300%.”
Which HPV Vaccines Are Available?
Thankfully, we have three types of HPV vaccines – Gardasil 9, Gardasil and Cervarix. All three went through years of extensive safety testing before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the CDC reports that HPV vaccination has the potential to prevent more than 90 percent of HPV-attributable cancers.
The HPV vaccines, like other immunizations that guard against viral infection, stimulate the body to produce antibodies that attack if they encounter the HPV infection by binding to the virus and preventing it from infecting cells. HPV vaccines do not prevent other sexually transmitted diseases or treat existing HPV infections/HPV-caused disease, but their implementation can reduce the rates of certain cancers.
And while Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, the associate center director of community outreach, engagement and equity at Moffitt Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet there are few medical strategies that totally prevent against getting cancer in the first place, she emphasized that data from countries with high rates of vaccine coverage show decreases in HPV-related pre-cancer and cancer – particularly so in the case of cervical cancer.
“We have a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HPV-related cancer,” Dr. Vadaparampil told SurvivorNet. “It is widely available, and costs are typically covered by private or public insurance.”
Eileen Duffey-Lind, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Boston Children’s Hospital, echoed Dr. Vadaparampil’s sentiment.
“No one should die of a preventable cancer like those tied to HPV, especially since we have a highly effective and safe vaccine available,” Duffey-Lind previously told SurvivorNet.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff
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