Imagine what the world would look like without the invention of the smallpox, whooping cough, typhoid, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio vaccines?

Immunization is widely considered one of the greatest achievements in human history. Global life expectancy was 31 years in 1900 and is 70 years now, thanks in large part to biomedical advances such as vaccines. The world has successfully and brilliantly used vaccines to control the spread of many infectious diseases—it is time we add HPV to the list.

Justine, Tristan, and Camille Almada started the HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation following the death of their beautiful and loving mother, Paulette Isabel Crowther from anal cancer at the premature age of 53. Like many diagnosed with anal cancer, her cancer was the result of the carcinogen, HPV.

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Paulette I Crowther (third from left), 1956 -2010

Paulette is not a case study. Over 7,000 people in the U.S. and 1,000 people in the U.K. will be diagnosed with anal cancer this year. Anal cancer treatment is difficult and often has long-term side effects. Many other thrivers have shared their heroic stories on this website and many more undergo the nasty side effects of a diagnosis and treatment of anal cancer each year. At least 90% of anal cancer cases are caused by HPV.

HPV not only causes anal cancer, but at least five other cancers, including cervical, oral, vulvar, vaginal and penile cancers. In the US and UK, over 37,000 people (including women and men) will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. HPV is prevalent around the world. In fact, in 2014, hundreds of millions of people around the world will contract HPV, and nearly a million people will develop life-threatening cancer caused by it. 5% of all cancers globally are caused by HPV. This is a real, serious global health threat.

When discussing HPV, people often miss the fact that oral and anal cancers are among the fastest rising cancers in the developed world in both men and women. Furthermore, there are no standard screening protocols for these sites, which means that people are often diagnosed in difficult-to-treat, later stages. Fortunately, we have a vaccine that prevents the HPV strains that are responsible for the vast majority of HPV-related cancers.

So is the vaccine safe? Recent studies from different areas such as the United States and Scandinavia around the world continue to show the safety of the Gardasil vaccine. Both American and European scientists report that severe reactions in their respective studies were no more common in the group that received the vaccine than the control group who did not. Despite much greater administration of the vaccine in recent years, reports of adverse effects are on the decline (which may indicate those early reports were influenced by misinformation around the time of the vaccine launch). Put simply, these studies show that the HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent many of these cancers, and save lives.

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FIGURE. Number of serious and nonserious reports of adverse events after administration of quadrivalent human papillomavirus (HPV4) vaccine in females, by year — Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, United States, June 2006–March 2013*

The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation recently launched a campaign in the UK called HPVAction. Echoing our successful campaign to vaccinate boys in the US, this initiative seeks to include boys in vaccination programs in the UK, an achievement also accomplished in Australia.  21 UK organizations joined our case for action to eliminate the HPV carcinogen – 21 organizations who represent the voice of those who are fed up with HPV and the devastation it causes.

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Representatives from HPVAction in October 2013

As in the US – where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists support universal vaccination – HPVAction’s objectives are backed by the leading clinical and scientific organizations of the UK. These include the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Royal Society for Public Health, and the School and Public Health Nurses Foundation, as well as 150 medical health professionals.

The Almada children lost their mother Paulette to one of the very few cancers that now has a safe and effective prevention tool. She is missed every single day. Their hope is that other families do not need to experience losing someone they love, painfully and prematurely, to a cancer that has a simple vaccine.

Take a shot at cancer—vaccinate against HPV.