Cancer prevention can’t start too early, especially where cancers caused by human papillomavirus infection are concerned, says OhioHealth’s Gary Reid, M.D. That’s why parents need to make sure their 11- and-12-year-old kids — both boys and girls — get the HPV vaccine, a three-dose series of shots that protects against cervical cancer as well as other cancers and genital warts.
Why should children get the HPV vaccine?
“People ask all the time: Can I do anything to prevent cancer?” says Reid, a gynecologic cancer surgeon. “This is the one and only proven way.”
HPV, which infects 1 in 4 people in the United States, is passed by sexual contact. The best way to avoid infection is to get the vaccine before being exposed to the viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That, and the fact that the vaccine produces better immunity when administered at the preteen stage, is why doctors recommend the shots earlier rather than later.
When should they get the vaccine?
The vaccine first came out in 2006 and was initially recommended for girls. A few years later the Food and Drug Administration began advocating that boys get the vaccine also, to both protect themselves and others, Reid says.
Is the HPV vaccine just for kids?
Children who haven’t had the vaccine by age 12 can still benefit from the shots. In fact, the CDC says the vaccine can provide some protection in young women up to age 27, young men up to age 22, and young gay or bisexual men or men who have weakened immune systems until age 27.
Despite a decade of availability, the percentage of girls and boys getting the HPV vaccine is low. Some of the latest numbers report just 36 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys had received it. That’s what prompted the American Society of Clinical Oncology to recommend ways to increase the number of youngsters being vaccinated.
“With safe and effective vaccines readily available, no young person today should have to face the devastating diagnosis of a preventable cancer like cervical cancer,” ASCO said in a statement released this year.
Reid suggests that parents of teens and preteens call their child’s physician about the vaccine and follow up to make sure all three shots are administered.