Health News
Health News
August 1, 2020
HPV Vaccine: An Investment in a Healthy Future

Many of us are familiar with the vaccines our children get to prevent terrible diseases like polio, mumps, measles and diphtheria.  These diseases used to be commonplace in childhood until the development and widespread use of vaccines made them rare. 

What if your children could also get a vaccine to prevent a terrible disease later in life?  We can’t prevent all future illnesses, of course, but there are a group of cancers you can protect your children from, simply by making sure they get the HPV vaccine.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus transmitted through sexual contact.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of the population will have HPV at some point in their lives.  There are several different strains of HPV. 

For most, the virus will never cause any problems at all and in 90% of cases, it will go away on its own within a couple of years.  However, in some instances, HPV can cause cancer. 

HPV is responsible for more than 90% of all cervical cancer diagnoses.  Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer, usually at age 30 or older.  Because HPV is so preventable with a vaccine, the CDC says, “no woman should die of cervical cancer.” 

While HPV is most often associated with cervical cancer, it may also lead to other cancers, some of which affect men as well as women.  HPV can cause cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum, throat, head and neck. For several of these cancers, there is no regular screening, meaning that cancer is usually only discovered once it has progressed and caused noticeable symptoms – another reason the HPV vaccine is so important.   

Altogether, HPV is responsible for causing 35,000 cases of cancer in men and women each year.  The CDC believes the HPV vaccine can prevent 32,000 of those cases. 

Certain strains of HPV can also cause other problems, such as genital warts. 

The HPV Vaccine

Parents can reduce their daughters’ and sons’ future risk for cancer by ensuring that they receive the HPV vaccine.  Girls and boys should receive the HPV vaccine at ages 11-12, although it can be given beginning at age 9.  The vaccine is administered through two shots, six to twelve months apart.  The HPV vaccine may be given to girls and young women through age 26 and to boys and young men through age 21.  For people older than 14, the vaccine will consist of three shots over a six-month period. 

“It is essential that all boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine, just as they received vaccines to prevent polio, mumps, measles and whooping cough when they were babies,” explains Dr. Rebecca Butler, a pediatrician.  “Vaccines are for protecting children’s health not only in the present day, but long into their adult lives, as well.”

Medical research proves the HPV vaccine is effective. Since the vaccine became available in 2006, incidence of cervical cancers in the United States has begun to decline.  The type of HPV that causes most HPV cancers, as well as genital warts, has declined 86% among teen females.  Among women who have been vaccinated for HPV, there has been a 40% decrease in cervical precancers. 

Some parents may question the wisdom of having their daughter or son receive the HPV vaccine at such a young age. These are some of the reasons it is important children get the vaccine at age 11:

  • The HPV vaccine can be administered at the same time as the other vaccines that are due at age 11, including MenACWY (meningitis) and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis).

  • The HPV vaccine requires only two doses if given at age 11-12; waiting until the child is older will mean three doses.

  • The vaccine is more effective when administered at a young age.

  • Research has shown that receiving the vaccine at age 11 does not lead to an earlier start of sexual activity.

“Our kids are going to grow up someday and as parents, it’s our job to ensure we have done everything possible to help them live happy and healthy lives,” says Dr. Smita Mahapatra, a pediatrician. “Making sure our kids get all recommended vaccines on time, including the HPV vaccine, is an important part of laying the groundwork for their good health now and in the future.”

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Mayo Clinic