Steve Wilson is a medical pathologist. He spends his days identifying dangerous diseases. So he has a heightened sense of awareness of cancer, and maybe to some extent, a fear of cancer.
But when he was on vacation in the Caribbean in December 2015, and he felt a lump on his neck, the lump was cancer.
“It was what I was expecting and what I was afraid of,” said Dr. Wilson.
Doctor Umamaheswar Duvvuri is a head, neck and throat specialist. Dr. Duvvuri says at one time, oral cancer was linked primarily to smoking, but head and neck cancers are now more often caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
“The reality is there is no treatment for the viral infection itself, which is why we need to vaccinate people to prevent them from getting the virus to begin with,” said Dr. Duvvuri.
The CDC recommends boys and girls receive two doses of an HPV vaccine before they become sexually active. A new study found 93 percent of all HPV-caused cancers were preventable with the vaccine. Still, only 40 percent of all teen girls and 22 percent of the boys have been vaccinated.
“I think nationwide we should have this mandated. I believe this vaccine is efficacious and safe,” said Dr. Duvvuri.
Steve Wilson wishes the HPV vaccine had been an option years ago.
“All of us who are 40 and above, we’re all at risk for this, and we don’t know if we’re going to have it, or not have it," said Steve.
Radiation and chemotherapy knocked back Steve’s cancer. Now he’s back helping detect disease in others.
Per the Immunization Action Coalition, only Rhode Island, Virginia and the District of Columbia mandate middle school-aged children have the HPV vaccine.
And since 2008, Canada has introduced HPV immunization programs for all adolescent girls between grades 4 and 7.
In Washington state, it is not a mandated vaccine.