HARLINGEN — Mailene Yeakel wishes she’d known sooner about a vaccine that could have prevented her type of cervical cancer.
Yeakel, 26, learned about the vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, about a month after she’d been diagnosed with cervical cancer in December 2013. After the initial diagnosis, further examination found she’d been infected with a strain of the virus that can cause cancer of the cervix, penis, lungs and throat.
Three doses of a vaccination called Gardasil could have prevented infection of the virus.
As things were, the cancer had progressed quickly to Stage 3 because of her anemia and diminished immune system. She had to undergo an outpatient surgery to remove the malignancy — and a significant part of her cervix.
The operation has made it extremely difficult for her and her new husband, Robert, to conceive children. When she learned about a simple vaccination, she was angry and hurt.
“I was very upset because it was something that was so common,” Yeakel said. “Everybody gets the flu shot so why can’t they promote the HPV?”
Gardasil became available in 2006 from pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co. Controversy quickly erupted about the vaccine on several levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says boys and girls should receive the vaccination by age 12. HPV is transmitted primarily through sexual activity as well as other means. Parents objected to the idea of vaccinating their children against a sexually-transmitted disease. Others felt it hadn’t been tested enough, that there were dangerous side effects such as shock and stroke, and that HPV in fact wasn’t that serious.
Another HPV vaccine, Cervarix, is administered only to girls.
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