Health Team

Doctors: HPV vaccine nearly 100% effective in preventing certain cancers

Posted October 18, 2016 9:12 a.m. EDT

About 79 million Americans are infected with human papilloma virus, with 14 million new infections reported every year.

The virus can lead to several different cancers in both boys and girls. There's a vaccine to prevent HPV, but most people who should get it don't.

Experts say parents get their kids vaccinated for a number of diseases, and the time to think about the HPV vaccine in pre-teen children.

"It doesn't discriminate by gender," said Consumer Reports Medical Director Dr. Orly Avitzur. "HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection, in both males and females. It can cause genital warts and several different kinds of cancer, including cervical and cancer of the mouth and throat."

Studies show the Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine can be nearly 100 percent effective. Yet, the number of those getting it is extremely low, while the rate of some of the associated cancers remains high. That has medical experts at Consumer Reports concerned.

"There are very few side effects," Avitzur. "If parents can get on board and start vaccinating their kids, HPV can probably be eradicated."

Given as a series of three injections, ideally over six months, the vaccine is most effective when it is given before any possible exposure to the virus, which means before kids are sexually active.

"Parents question why they're giving it to their 11-year-old, but concerns about it encouraging sexual promiscuity are unfounded," Avitzur said. "It is an important conversation for parents and doctors to have."

While doctors say it's best to get the vaccine as a pre-teen, the CDC says it may be given through age 26.

Protection from the vaccine lasts at least 8 to 10 years but possibly longer.

The effectiveness is being monitored to determine if a booster is needed.