Can the HPV vaccine help prevent your child from getting cancer?

According to the CDC, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 related viruses that are considered to be sexually transmitted infections. Some HPVs can cause warts. Others can cause cancer of the mouth, throat and anus/rectum. Men can also get penile cancer, while HPV in women may cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. HPV often has no symptoms.

According to the CDC, HPV is the most common form of sexually transmitted infection, with over 79 million Americans infected, most in their late teens and early 20s. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. Some people may not even know they have it since the virus can lay dormant in your body with no physical signs. Some people discover they have HPV later on because they discover they have genital warts, cervical precancer or other HPV-related cancers.

HPV is transmitted primarily through vaginal, anal or oral sex. HPV is highly contagious; even if you show no signs of the virus, you can give it to someone else. A condition that occurs from HPV is genital warts. Sometimes, they will show up and won’t go away. Genital warts can lead to chronic infections, which can cause cancer of the cervix, anus, vagina, penis, throat and tongue.

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Sexual contact is the most common way HPV is spread, so many parents question why they should have their child vaccinated at age 11 or 12, which is the age recommended by the CDC. The reason is the same for any other vaccination your child receives: For the HPV vaccine to be the most effective, it should be given before your child is sexually active and their risk increases due to potential exposure to other partners who carry the HPV virus. With 31,000 people diagnosed each year with 13 types of cancer that could be prevented by the HPV vaccine, this vaccine, in effect, is a cancer vaccine. Research in the Journal of Pediatrics confirms that getting the vaccine does not lead to earlier sexual activity.

Since the vaccine’s introduction in 2006, HPV infections among teen girls has reduced 64 percent, and genital warts and cervical precancers are also decreasing.

“As a family practice physician, I believe one of my most important roles is keeping my patients healthy,” says Jennifer Rose Boozer, DO, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and family medicine physician at Keck Medicine of USC – Glendale and Pasadena. “That is probably why I feel so strongly about making sure they get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective for helping to prevent certain types of cancer related to HPV infection.”

The HPV Vaccine

Both boys and girls should get the HPV vaccine.

How the HPV vaccine is administered:

  • For children ages 11 or 12, the vaccine is a two-part shot given six-to-twelve months apart
  • If your child is over age 14, three shots will be required over a six-month period.

The vaccine is recommended for people up to age 26. The vaccine is only effective if all doses are administered. Women should also continue to have regular cervical cancer screenings to identify any precancerous signs.

Side Effects

The side effects for the HPV shot, which are usually mild, can include pain after the injection, swelling and redness in the arm, dizziness and brief fainting spells. Resting for about 15 minutes after the shot can prevent these. In 2014, the CDC reported that 92 percent of reports to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) were classified as non-serious. In rare cases, fainting as well as anaphylaxis in people with severe allergies can occur.

As with other medical conditions, consider discussing any concerns you may have with your doctor. If you are in the Southern California area and would like a consultation with a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment to schedule an appointment.

By Heidi Tyline King