The chance that someone will be exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV) in his or her lifetime is 80%. In most people the immune system clears the virus before it’s detected. But some cases do lead to cancer and other diseases.
The HPV vaccine can guard against specific strains of the virus and help prevent cancer. Those cancers include cervical, anal, oropharyngeal or throat, vaginal, vulvar and penile. Some of these types of cancer are almost exclusively caused by HPV. Preventing HPV would mean eliminating those types of cancer.
“We have a great opportunity to remove certain types of cancer from our world,” says Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.
MD Anderson recommends that both girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. This is when their immune system will respond best to the vaccine. Both boys and girls can get the vaccine as early as 9. Boys can get the vaccine up to age 21. Girls can get the vaccine up to age 26.
“It’s to protect them later on in life,” Ramondetta says.
The vaccine is administered in a series of three shots over six months. All three shots are required for the vaccine to be effective. So when you call to make an appointment for your child to get the vaccine, go ahead and make all three. But don’t worry if you miss a dose. You can still finish the series.
Since the HPV vaccine first became available in 2006, HPV infections have dropped by more than half among girls age 14 to 19 in the United States.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.