Vaccination as a young adult could prevent six types of cancer

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Each year, more than 35,000 men and women in the United States are diagnosed with one of six types of cancer caused by the human papillomavirus. It’s an infection without treatment.

In February 2020, Jose Hernandez noticed a small bump on his neck. He thought little of it, but made an appointment with his doctor. Hernandez figured the doctor would prescribe antibiotics and the problem would go away on its own.

His doctor told him it was oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma and he needed to see an oncologist.

“That’s when you go into that shock mode, ‘What is this? what causes it I need to learn more about what type of cancer this is,'” Hernandez said.

His doctors told him that this type of cancer is caused by HPV. According to the American Cancer Society, 14 million people — including teenagers — become infected with HPV each year.

Hernandez decided against chemotherapy. He underwent surgery to remove the cancerous lymph nodes and 30 rounds of radiation. He spent 15 days in the hospital after suffering complications from his feeding tube.

“What I went through, we can kind of say, it was like hell,” he said.

The father of two held on to his faith and the strength of his wife to help him recover. They were unaware of the HPV vaccine.

“The doctors [asked] I when [my] Kids have the vaccine, and I said no,” Jose Hernandez said. “They said it was better for them to have it because it could be a trigger for them being able to get it.”

Doctors recommended the HPV vaccine for children ages 9 to 12, but young adults up to age 26 can also get the vaccine. Texas has the highest number of US teens unprotected against HPV.

“We’ve been fighting cancer for 108 years,” said Jeff Fehlis, executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. “We have a vaccine that can prevent cancer, and that’s what makes HPV vaccination so important.”

For Ashley, Hernandez’s youngest daughter, getting vaccinated was out of the question.

“I wanted to make sure I was safe,” she said. “Because you never know when you’re going to get the cancer — it’s unpredictable.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the HPV vaccine can prevent more than 90% of HPV cancers, including larynx, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, and penile cancers.

Jose Hernandez and his family hope others will see his story and get vaccinated against HPV.

“Why wait for problems in the future when you can prevent them now and not worry?” said Ashley Hernandez.

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