Should Your Child Get the HPV Vaccine?

Dr. Kathryn Self's picture
By Dr. Kathryn Self on September 25, 2017

Let’s have an uncomfortable conversation. Ok, not really, but for some parents the conversation about a particular vaccine can be uncomfortable.

I am talking about the HPV vaccine, or the human papillomavirus. Yes, HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, but don’t think of it that way. Think of it as a virus that can cause cancer.

What is HPV?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. About 80 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV and about 14 million people will become newly infected each year.

In other words, it is so common that most sexually active people will have it at some point in their lives.

HPV and Cancer
For most, the virus causes no issues and goes away, but for some it can cause cancer. The CDC reports that almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV, but the virus has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and throat.

So, what if you could prevent this type of cancer before it even occurred? You would probably do it, right?

Well, in this case you can with the HPV vaccine.

HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys (yes, boys too!) ages 11 to 12. At this age, the vaccine produces the strongest immune response and it is most effective if the vaccine is given before a person becomes sexually active.

The HPV vaccine has been proven to prevent the two types of HPV that cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers and pre-cancers, as well as many cancers of the throat, vagina, vulva and anus. Plus, the vaccine helps prevent infection by the two types of HPV that cause most genital warts.

The vaccine is given as a series of shots and research has shown that its effects are long lasting. Current studies have followed vaccinated individuals for 10 years and show that there is no evidence of weakened protection over time.

If you have any questions about the HPV vaccine, talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider. You can safeguard your child today for the future!

Kathryn C. Self, M.D., is a pediatrician at Carilion Children's pediatric medicine practice in Rocky Mount, Va. Check out Dr. Self's bio to learn more.