Odds are, you or someone you know has been infected with human papillomavirus, or HPV. It’s the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the US, infecting more than 79 million Americans. More than 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year. HPV is also responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer diagnoses, and can also be responsible for throat, penile and rectal cancer.
The good news is there’s a vaccine that prevents infection from the most common strains of HPV — and the vaccine is really good at what it does.
Q: Why should my child get the HPV vaccine?
As a physician trained in adolescent medicine, I often see teens and young adults who are devastated to learn they have HPV because they’ve always used protection. What they often don’t know is that HPV can be transmitted through any type of intimate sexual contact. You don’t have to have intercourse to become infected. If infected skin touches skin, the virus can spread. That’s why this particular vaccine is such an important way to prevent HPV.
Another sobering reminder: According to the 2013 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 45.2 percent of 11th grade students have had sex, and of those only 29.1 percent reported using condoms (which are important, but unable to prevent all HPV infections). While you can encourage your teen to make smart choices, at the end of the day, they’re going to make their own decisions. What you can do is ensure they complete the HPV vaccine series of three shots before they’re exposed to the virus.
Q: When should my child get the vaccine?
The HPV vaccine must be given before exposure to the virus in order to work. That’s why I recommend giving the vaccine to teen girls and boys (yep, teen boys catch and spread HPV, too) typically starting at age 11, but even as young as age 9. That may seem young to some parents, but remember, this vaccine protects against cancers and other diseases caused by HPV. The vaccine is given in three shots over six months and it is critical that your child get all three doses. If your child is behind or off schedule, we recommend completing the vaccine series. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective and, like all vaccines, undergoes extensive safety testing.
As parents, we want the best for our kids. Knowing that you can help prevent your teen from possibly getting cancer in the future, why wouldn’t you want to get him or her vaccinated? Talk to your teen and his or her doctor about HPV prevention. Click here for more information on HPV.