The HPV Vaccine Is for Boys, Too
Why does your 11-year-old son need a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV)? The same reason your young daughter needs one — to prevent cancer.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects 79 million Americans, with 14 million becoming newly infected each year. HPV has more than 1000 different strains, or types. While some strains are harmless and have no symptoms, others can cause genital warts. Other types might lead to cancer, including cervical and mouth and neck cancers. Cancer often takes years to develop after a person is infected with HPV, but 70 percent of head and neck cancers are caused by HPV, and more than 90 percent of all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
The HPV vaccine is the safest way to prevent the negative consequences of HPV. The vaccine is recommended for all boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12.
“It’s important for boys to get vaccinated because it prevents genital warts and certain cancers, including mouth and throat cancers,” says Sheri Puffer, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., Ob/Gyn on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. “The vaccine also prevents passing HPV to future female partners who could develop cervical cancer.”
Starting Young, Saving Lives
Vaccinating your child against an STI before he or she has completed puberty may seem irrational, but there are two good reasons the HPV vaccine is given at a young age. The first is your child has the best immune response — and therefore a higher immunity — when given the vaccine at this age. The second is that getting the vaccine before ever having sex is the best way to prevent HPV.
“The vaccine has the biggest benefit when given prior to any sexual activity,” Dr. Puffer says. “You can be exposed to HPV, including the strains that cause cancer, during your first sexual experience. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection — virtually all men and women are exposed to it at some point in their lives.”
Some parents may worry that a vaccine against an STI sends a message that sexual activity is permissible. The good news is that, according to studies, the HPV vaccine does not lead to increased sexual activity.
“Many parents think that by giving their child the vaccine, they give their children free reign to be sexually active,” Dr. Puffer says. “The truth is that it doesn’t change sexual behavior — but it does protect them from a potentially deadly infection.”
If your child did not get vaccinated between age 11 and 12, catch-up vaccines are available for men through age 21 and women through age 26.
Your primary care provider can help you understand whether or not an HPV vaccine is right for your child. To find a provider with Texas Health Resources, visit TexasHealth.org.
Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.