HPV vaccine: Help your kids prevent cancer
The HPV vaccine prevents infection from strains of HPV that cause cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. It also protects against strains that cause genital warts.
All males and females ages 9–26 should get the HPV vaccine. It is most effective when given at ages 11–12. Unvaccinated men and women ages 27–45 can also get the HPV vaccine and should talk to their doctor about the benefits of the vaccine.
But some parents are hesitant to get their children vaccinated because they associate the HPV vaccine with sexual activity or are scared of potential side effects.
“Getting them the HPV vaccine doesn’t mean you’re encouraging your child to become sexually promiscuous or even sexually active,” says Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson. “Getting the HPV vaccine is a no-brainer.”
She recommends that parents follow these tips when talking to their kids about the HPV vaccine.
Leave sex out of the conversation if you’re not comfortable talking about it.
“A conversation about the vaccine doesn’t have to be a conversation about sex,” Ramondetta says.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. It is so common that almost 80% of men and women get the disease at some point. It can be spread through vaginal or oral sex as well as intimate skin-to-skin contact and kissing. Although most cases of HPV clear up on their own, some can stay in the system and cause genital warts or cancer.
When discussing the HPV vaccine with your children, it’s important to stress that the vaccine is for cancer prevention over the course of their lifetime.
“Tell your kids that the shot will keep them from getting an HPV infection and is expected to help protect them from up to six types of cancer,” she says.
The HPV vaccine should be treated just like any other vaccine.
Tell your children this is just one more shot they need to get along with their other vaccines.
“The HPV vaccine should be treated just like any other vaccine,” Ramondetta says.
Talk to your child’s doctor about including the shot with the regular vaccines for your child at this age. If it’s not offered, bring it up.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many others recommend the shot be given along with the Tdap vaccination (which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough) and the meningococcal B vaccine (the vaccine for meningitis) at age 11-12 in all boys and girls.
Remind your children that the shot is safe and effective.
“Some parents and their children may worry about the possibility of side effects,” says Ramondetta. “But the HPV vaccine has been proven safe and effective.”
The most commonly reported side effects from the vaccine are mild redness and swelling at the site of the shot. There is no evidence that links the vaccine to adverse or severe reactions.
“Those very minor risks associated with the vaccine are well worth it,” Ramondetta says. “This vaccine could help eliminate certain typse of cancer, starting with cervical cancer.”