MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman is sharing a message of strength and awareness during his second battle with cancer.
“The cancer I have is caused by a virus,” Coleman said. “You can get a vaccination to prevent you from getting the HPV virus today.”
Three and a half years ago he underwent chemo, radiation and surgery to kill the cancer in his tonsil and neck. Now, he is fighting stage 4 metastatic lung cancer. Coleman is receiving treatment five days a week for five weeks at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
He said his cancer is caused by the HPV virus and is encouraging people to look into the vaccine that can help prevent it.
HPV is a virus that can be transmitted in many different ways. It is mostly known as a sexually-transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer in women, but it can also be spread from kissing or any skin-to-skin contact. Most people over 26 have HPV. For most, it’s harmless, but in a small percentage of people, it leads to cancer.
The former senator is an advocate for the vaccine, which thrills Allina Health’s infectious disease specialist Dr. Frank Rhame.
“That’s a wonderful opportunity Sen. Coleman is giving us because he’s pointing out head and neck cancers are preventable by this vaccine, too, which are not associated with sexual intercourse,” Dr. Rhame said.
HPV can be prevented with a three-part vaccine. Dr. Rhame is frustrated more people don’t get the vaccine.
“We’ve got a vaccine that prevents cancer and only half the people who need it, get it,” Dr. Rhame said.
Dr. Rhame says only 50 percent of parents opt in.
“Parents are nervous to acknowledge their kids are gonna have sex,” Dr. Rhame said. “They don’t want to think about it.”
But he says something so much more difficult could await.
The vaccine is recommended for 11-year-old children all the way through age 26, but Dr. Rhame says it’s not a bad idea at any age.