Health Team

Not just for women, HPV vaccines protect men from cancer

Posted July 14

The human papilloma virus—or HPV—is the primary cause of cervical cancer in young women.

What is not as well publicized, though, is that the sexually transmitted virus is responsible for cancers in men, too. The lack of publicity for men is one reason why vaccination efforts are falling short.

The HPV vaccine has been promoted for both girls and boys, but Cleveland Clinic pediatrician Dr. Ellen Rome says males aren't as aware of their risk.

"What we know is that only one out of ten boys is currently vaccinated, but by adulthood, one out of two has been infected," Rome said.

A recent study showed that nearly half of American men are infected with HPV. In addition to cervical cancer in women, experts know that the majority of head and neck cancers are due to HPV, which are cancers that could have been prevented with the vaccine.

Rome says every family should make all vaccines a priority.

Infectious disease experts say vaccinating children long before they are sexually active is the best strategy. Currently, the recommendation calls for boys and girls to receive the vaccine between the ages of 9 and 26.

Immunity to HPV is best when a child gets the vaccine before the age of 14. Kids younger than 14 also only need two shots of the vaccine as opposed to three shots if they get it later.

Most children begin to receive the HPV vaccine at age 11, about the same time that they get their tetanus booster. The challenge is that many parents don't know how vital the vaccine is for their child, whether it's their son or daughter.

"The ones that they can share, like HPV-related cervical cancer, puts the burden on all of us as a community to help get our kids vaccinated – boys and girls," Rome said.

WRAL Health Team's Dr. Allen Mask says that in the same way that parents are faithful to have child vaccinated for tetanus before they step on a rusty nail, they shouldn't wait for their child to become sexually active before they get the HPV vaccine.


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