As parents schedule their well-child visits, one vaccine that parents of older children have a lot of questions about is the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. HPV causes more than 30,000 cases of cancer in the U.S. every year and is the primary cause of cervical cancer in women. It’s also a contributing cause to several other types of cancer in women and men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children receive the HPV vaccine around age 11 to ensure maximum effectiveness, but only around half of kids are actually getting the vaccine.
As a pediatrician, I talk to parents often about their concerns with the vaccine. It can make parents of preteens particularly uncomfortable to think about a vaccine that prevents against the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). But it’s critically important to your child’s health as he or she enters adulthood.
Here are four reasons your child needs the HPV vaccine.
- HPV is the most common STD: More than 79 million Americans—both male and female—are affected by HPV. Each year, an additional 14 million new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. While most strains don’t cause long-term health issues, there are more than a dozen “high-risk” strains of HPV that are proven to cause cancer.
- Both girls and boys need it: While most people refer to HPV vaccines as “cervical cancer” vaccines, the HPV vaccine prevents several forms of cancer that affect men. If more boys receive the vaccine, as many as 11,000 cases of male HPV-related cancers could be prevented every year.
- HPV vaccines are more effective in preteens: It may be a few years before your child becomes sexually active, but the HPV vaccine is more effective in younger kids, as they their immune systems respond better than those of teens even just a few years older.
- Vaccination saves lives: As with all vaccines recommended by doctors, the HPV vaccine saves lives. More than 30,000 cases of cancer are caused by strains of HPV each year—and that’s just in the U.S. Vaccinating your sons and daughters reduces the transmission of HPV and may prevent very serious cancers from affecting your child when he or she is an adult.
We recommend discussing the importance of the HPV vaccine with your child’s pediatrician as he or she approaches the preteen years. While it may feel uncomfortable now, it can reduce your child’s risk of cancer as an adult.
Dr. Warhaftig is a pediatrician at South Shore Medical Center and is currently accepting new patients. Visit South Shore Medical Center's website to learn more about him and other physicians who are accepting new patients.