suppose they invented a breast cancer vaccine…

If a vaccine became available that would stop 70% of breast cancer, I have no doubt that 99% of parents would line up with their daughters to get the shots. As parents, we want desperately to protect our children from pain — from illness — from anything that might hurt them. Cancer is close to the top of most people’s personal list of Scary Things That We Do Not Want Associated With Our Kids, and breast cancer is a much-publicized and frightening slayer of women young and old; so providing our daughters with protection against such a scourge would be a no-brainer.

But guess what? When I took my daughter on Friday to get the first of a series of three Gardasil shots, the nurse said to her, “You know, you’re lucky to have a mom who’s letting you get these shots. A lot of mothers won’t.”

I find this so staggeringly mind-blowing that it’s nearly impossible to comprehend. I’m a mom who’s letting my daughter have a vaccination that will protect her from the HPV viruses that cause 70% of cervical cancer (and 90% of genital warts). I’m a mom who’s letting my daughter avoid the things that I’ve gone through:

  • The stress each and every year when it’s time for my Pap test
  • The anxiety of receiving phone calls that my test results were abnormal and I need to be retested (this has happened three times)
  • The stabbing pain of a cervical biopsy (this has happened twice)
  • The panic at being told that I have severe precancerous cervical dysplasia and that immediate treatment is necessary (only once — so far)
  • Surgery during which a sizable portion of my cervix was burned away with a laser to destroy the abnormal cells

You’re damn right I’m a mom who’s letting my daughter be protected against all these things — and against the worst of them all, the one I fear and will have to continue fearing my entire life: being one of the thousands of women who die each year in the U.S. from cervical cancer.

In some inexplicable manner, many parents have got it in their heads that letting their daughters have the Gardasil vaccine will give them license to run amuck sexually. I beg these people to remember that when they first considered having sex, the risk of the HPV virus and cervical cancer was not even on their radar. The sex-related argument against these shots is utterly specious — a fabrication of twisted, overly zealous minds.

Friday was one of the happiest days of my life, because I was able to personally help ensure my daughter’s protection against a killer. To be unwilling to do so — to deny this protection to a daughter — is surely tantamount to child abuse.

18 responses to “suppose they invented a breast cancer vaccine…

  1. Amen.

    Social conservatives parse sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy as punishment for promiscuous behavior so they try as hard as they can to maintain those consequences. Of course, it puts innocents in danger as well. But they don’t seem to care.

    It’s morally repugnant and I don’t understand how they can live with themselves.

  2. I, too, am pleased to have helped my daughter get the vaccine. Still, while I find laughable the notion that Gardasil will encourage sex, I don’t think it is nearly as much of a stretch to fear that Gardasil (or its competitors still in the pipeline) will discourage PAPs. I hope the publicity is consistent and pervasive: The vaccine does NOT take the place of yearly PAP and pelvic. Gardasil protects against four HPV strains, two of which are believed to cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, but the PAP remains the most important protection against cervical cancer.

  3. Jo Ann is right on. The notion that the vaccine will cause promiscuity is asinine, and perhaps the only downside is, as she said, laxity in maintaining one’s preventive health measures.

    It would be nice to eventually have something like this for breast cancer–or any cancer for that matter–but unfortunately it’s not likely to be exactly this; breast cancer is rarely, if ever, virally-based, whereas cervical cancer has its roots very, very often in a specific viral infection associated with sexual activity, which is why the vaccine is so promising.

  4. Thud, “morally repugnant” is exactly right.

    Jo Ann, the doctor’s office made sure to stress the need for regular Pap tests despite the vaccine. We talked before going about the fact that he vaccine helps with many cases, but not all, and my daughter understands the need to get regular checks throughout her life.

    Ben, I was just using breast cancer as a high-profile example in this case. If only we were so lucky as to find that all cancers had their roots in causes that could be vaccinated against…

  5. The conservatives also say that sex education causes promiscuity. That leaving a boys foreskin in tact encourages masturbation, and that same sex unions are abominations. According to them Jews and Muslims are damned, and I’ll be frying in a much lower (and hotter) pit in Hell. You’ve agreed to sign in the night club I’m going to open, but I digress.

    None of these makes sense. If there’s a remote possibility it can save a life or spare pain (emotional or physical) get the vaccine. I’m all for making the inoculation against HPV part of the requirements for entering school, but I’m one of those card carrying, lavender liberals.

  6. I recently asked my daughter’s Dr. if she should get Gardasil and was advised that some insurances won’t even pay for it. In addition, for those she’s administered it to, there have been favorable results, but does caution that I could stand to wait for more in-depth research and findings from those whom Gardasil has been administered to. She wasn’t saying my daughter shouldn’t get it nor am I saying I won’t allow my daughter to get it; I’m exacting a little more caution and time to do my homework before I put my daughter through the innoculations.

    The sad fact is that, pharmaceutical companies are quick to promote medicines that in many cases get recalled after an overwhelming amount of adverse reactions are reported. I know first hand how taking something that is presumably safe can negatively impact you, so again, it’s for those reasons why I’m a little more cautionary about administering “preventative” medicines; especially to my child.

    Last thing, if we STOP filling our foods with abnormal food additives and find ways to reduce toxins in the air, many of the mounting illnesses could possibly be prevented.

  7. I wish I could say that I was surprised at mothers “not letting” their daughters get the vaccine, but frankly, I’m not. Here’s a list of reasons why:

    1. We live in a country where “big, shocking news” is that “Abstinence only sex education does not work”. I can tell you that everyone born in my generation said a huge “DUH!” when this story came out.

    2. We live in a country that is afraid of sex. Regardless of whether this vaccine is meant to help prevent something that is a source for causing cancer, it has a strong sexual connotation (genital warts) and therefore it’s to be considered “taboo” and “dangerous”.

    3. The majority of people in this country don’t know and don’t want to know what HPV is. They hear “…genital warts …cervical cancer” and turn a blind ear. It’s one of those, “oh that could never happen to me or my family!” things.

    4. A lot of parents are HORRIBLE about getting their children more than the basic vaccinations. If it isn’t for measles, mumps, and rubella and it isn’t a TB or booster shot, their kid just ain’t getting it. It’s sad, but true.

    And finally:

    5. We live in an ultra conservative union, contrary to what may be popular belief. Things that are considered cutting edge, particularly in the field of women’s health, are typically shunned. It’s sad, but it’s true.

    I can guarantee that should they ever come out with an AIDS vaccine, you’ll notice the same thing happens.

  8. An op-ed looking at the other side of the coin.

    Also, many people won’t let their children get it because of a total lack of testing. The makers of the vaccine are also the ones to test it, and the FDA doesn’t actually do any of its own testing. The FDA takes the information FROM Merck and makes its decision based on information provided from the manufacturer. Quite like the fox installing the lock on the henhouse door.

    Why people jump on the newest bandwagon in a moment’s notice is a mystery to me. FDA also approved Vioxx that over 100 million people took, killing thousands, but you want to rush out for the newest and greatest vaccine?


    Blu: I agree, we need to start cleaning up our planet in the biggest way. We’re trashing the place we live with chemicals and toxins and wondering why all the kids are sick with ADD and asthma — really? IT’s not a hard concept: children are inundated with processed foods, sugar, chemicals in our foods, toxins in the vaccines, more chemicals at school, more processed foods at school, pollution in both the air and the water —- and yet millions of people think Autism is just “genetic.”

    Uh, yeah.

  9. S:

    Have you ever wondered why they keep coming out with vaccines?


    Now, have you ever wondered what would stop cancers dead in their tracks?


    Take the chemicals, pollution and toxins our of our lives and we’d have drastically less cancer —- BUT that wouldn’t make anyone money.

    Many, many parents don’t get their children vaccines because their children have already been injured. It has nothing to do with sex. Perhaps all you that think conservatives can only think about sex are the ones with the issue.

    Stop pigeon-holing conservatives into “oh, sex be bad.” And Liberals with “oh, we be smart.”

    And start really picking apart the issues. The HPV vaccine does nothing but make Merck billions of dollars richer, and there was some early talk that the shots can actually induce infertility. That subject seems to have literlly fallen off the face of the earth — a push by the PR people of the makers of the vaccine to squelch bad publicitiy, or coincidence . . .

    Wouldn’t YOU hate to be the mother explaining to her child why she’s unable to have children of her own because you jumped on the next vaccine bandwagon?

    I would.

  10. MaryAnna, while you are busy calling names and faulting broad-brush painting, you might want to take a glance in the mirror. Obviously, we all make our own decisions about what is best for our children. I’m really not exactly a “vaccine bandwagon” devotee. I’ve done a lot of research over the years concerning vaccines; some I have accepted and others I have not. Opt-outs are always part of any vaccine progam. As part of our investigation of Gardasil, my partner was fortunate to be able to attend a gathering to discuss cervical cancer vaccines with one of the developers (who is, by the way, an independent scientist and researcher, not an employee of either Merck or GSK). We also reviewed information available from other researchers. See, e.g., This drug is not something brand new, rushed to market with no concern for anything other than money. Gardasil’s Phase III testing was three years long, and it built on other cervical cancer vaccine studies that had been going on for most of two decades. As far as the “sterility” rumor, it is just that. The question has been asked, but there is absolutely no basis for it.

  11. MaryAnna, to address your thoughts on my response, my use of “conservative” isn’t referring to politics or conservatives vs. liberals, though that would be an easy argument as well. My use of “conservative” is to refer to a group of people that are “old fashioned” or “safe” (for lack of better terms).

    I think it’s safe to say that my statements are not pigeon-holing these types of people. Conservative folk do not like radical change.

    My talk of “non-basic” vaccines far surpasses the vaccinations for sexually transmitted diseases. There are vaccines for Meningitis, hep. B, polio, small pox, etc. etc. etc. Perhaps you should research those.

    Interestingly, you didn’t comment on my point raised about abstinence only sex-ed. I think that that pretty much falls into your point about prevention.

    I, myself, am getting the Gardasil vaccine, though I do not fall in the “high risk” range. I do not think that getting a vaccine falls outside of preventative measures, and I also (after having gotten my second dosage) have not once experienced a problem. I soon get my third, and final, dose and I am sure that I will continue to be unaffected.

    And for those of you that are unsure of the safeness or side effects of said vaccine, I get bloodwork done prior to every dose and I get reading material full of information about the vaccine at every vaccination visit.

    It’s easy to find websites to support your own beliefs and personal crusades. Perhaps you should focus on more than the “anti-big business” portion of it, and focus on the health issue.

    Tiffany, apologies for taking over your comments. And I will continue to applaud you for your decisions in taking care of your daughter and the stand for women’s health.

  12. Whew, it’s getting a little hott in herre.

  13. MaryAnna, while I can appreciate your point of view, I think your conspiracy theories of sorts are a bit misdirected. The fact is that this is the prevention. The vast majority of people will eventually become infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime, and this is very likely through sexual intercourse.

    What’s the more plausible mode of prevention: getting a vaccine, or asking people to never, ever have sex?

    We’re simply claiming that what some folks are suggesting is tantamount to asking people to stop breathing because it could lead to lung cancer. If there were a vaccine for lung cancer, you’d better bet your ass that most people would be getting it. Everyone breathes; everyone has sex.

  14. Blu and Mary Anna, thanks for sharing your opinions. I must respectfully disagree. I did a lot of reading and research, and that, together with my personal near-cancer experience, made my decision simple and clear. I have chosen to ignore what are clearly rumors, to look for balanced sources of information, and to consider the realities of our life: the HPV viruses exist, they are nearly ubiquitous in the bodies of sexually active adults, and no amount of cleaning toxins out of my children’s living environment is going to change that. Here is a simple way that I can guard my daughter against a danger, just as I’ve guarded both my kids against polio, diptheria, hepatitis, and other diseases.

    Also, regarding the insurance issue, it’s true that not all companies are covering the vaccine, or not covering it 100%. The doctor’s office urged me to call and check beforehand; I did, and we’re fortunate that the $600 total cost is completely covered. Even if it hadn’t been, I would have found a way to pay it: My daughter’s long-term health and welfare are worth infinitely more. It’s my opinion that all insurances should cover this vaccine, just as they cover other vaccines; and I think they eventually will.

    S, Jo Ann, and Ben, thanks so much for your cogent and clear arguments. I appreciate your taking time to weigh in on this issue. I never mind lengthy comments (on either side of an issue), because they’re always interesting, often informative, and sometimes surprising.

  15. At what point is this country going to understand that disease must be fought on the basis of science rather than morality?

  16. Tiffany,
    You did a wonderful thing for your daughter! I have someone very close to me who is 19 years old who has been diganosed with HPV. This is a must have shot!
    This shot, will not give any young girl the thought that she can now go out and have sex, no more than access to condoms will.
    You did the right thing!

  17. I have sons, but if I had a daughter, I would definitely look into this vaccine for her.

  18. The vaccine is a good thing. I’d rather the natural medicine. Please check this website and read all the information about breast cancer. It has free remedies about natural medicine, health treatment and free e-reports.

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