Cancer protection for boys and girls: The HPV vaccine

Cancer protection for boys and girls: The HPV vaccine

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the United States, is often referred to as the cervical cancer vaccine. It’s true that HPV causes most cervical cancers, but it’s also true that the vaccine is effective against other types of cancer in both men and women, which is why it’s now recommended for both boys and girls.

Do you have questions about whether your child should be vaccinated? We’ve got answers.

What is HPV?
One in four people in the United States have HPV, including many teenagers. Any type of sexual contact can spread the disease, including oral sex.

What are the symptoms?
HPV comes in two types: strains that cause visible genital warts, and strains that don’t. The latter type is associated with a higher risk of cancers of the cervix, mouth, anus and genitals. Since some types of HPV don’t produce visible symptoms, however, many people don’t realize they’re infected.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?
National health authorities recommend that both girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine at age 11. Experts recommend giving the vaccine early in adolescence in order to protect children from the disease before they have any sexual contact. Plus, the vaccine is more likely to be effective when children receive the vaccine at younger ages, since their immune systems respond better to it.

Still, it’s not too late for older adolescents or young adults who haven’t yet gotten the vaccine. Experts recommend the vaccine for men through age 21 and women through age 26.

Why do boys need the vaccine?
Initially, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended the HPV vaccine for girls, since studies showed that the disease was closely linked to cervical cancer. Since the vaccine was first approved in 2006, however, more research has shown that the vaccine can also be effective in preventing cancers of the mouth, anus and genitals in both men and women. Now experts recommend the vaccine for boys and girls.

Does my child really need this vaccine?
According to a 2016 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the HPV vaccine has already cut the rate of infection among teen girls by 64 percent in the last 10 years.

Every year, HPV causes about 30,700 cases of cancer in men and women nationwide, according to the CDC – and vaccination could prevent some 28,000 of them.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician or primary-care provider about the HPV vaccine. To find a provider, call our Physician Referral Service at (800) UCLA-MD1 or (310) 825-2631, Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm (PST).

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