PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

The HPV Vaccine – Why Your Preteen Should Get It

Posted on Mar 12, 2013

Group of smiling preteensDid you know that there is a vaccine against certain types of cancers? It’s called the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States and certain types of this virus can cause cervical cancer in women and other types of cancer in both men and women. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are about 15,000 HPV-associated cancers in women and 7,000 in men each year in the U.S. that may be prevented by vaccines. Having your preteen vaccinated is one of the best things you can do to help prevent him or her from getting an HPV-related cancer. In this blog post, Palo Alto Medical Foundation pediatrician Ross DeHovitz, M.D., answers parents’ commonly asked questions about the HPV vaccine.

What types of health issues does HPV cause?

There are approximately 40 different types of HPV. With most HPV infections there are no symptoms, and many go away on their own. But the virus can cause cervical cancer; the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women around the world. In the U.S. about 12,000 women get cervical cancer every year, and about 4,000 die from it.

Certain types of HPV can also cause anal, vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers as well as cancers of the mouth. Other HPV types can cause genital warts.

What does the HPV vaccine protect against?

Although the current vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, it does protect against the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. In addition, the vaccine may shield against other HPV diseases such as head, neck and penile cancers. Getting your child vaccinated will help protect him or her against these diseases and stop the spread of infection to other people.

When should I get my child vaccinated?

The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys 11 or 12 years of age. Your child’s doctor will give the HPV vaccine in three doses over a period of six months. The second dose is given one to two months after the first; your child should then receive the third dose six months after the first dose.

If there is a longer delay between the vaccinations, your child will not have to restart the series. It is, however, very important that your child receives all three doses for the vaccine to be fully effective. The HPV vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccinations.

Why should I get my preteen vaccinated against HPV – isn’t that too soon?

The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old children as it works best if preteens get all three doses well before any sexual activity begins. It’s important to know that it is possible to get an HPV infection during the very first sexual contact with another person. This vaccine is also most effective if it is given at that age as this is when your child’s body will produce the highest antibody count against the virus.

The CDC also recommends the vaccination for all teenagers and adults between 13 and 26 years of age, if they did not get it at age 11 or 12.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine does not cause either HPV or cervical cancer and is recommended by the CDC just like other important vaccinations such as tetanus and polio. The most common side effect is pain where the shot is given. Less common reactions include fever, a headache and nausea.

Why should both girls and boys receive the vaccine? Doesn’t the vaccine mainly protect against cervical cancer?

There’s a definite benefit to everyone if boys and girls receive the vaccination, as this helps limit the spread of infection with the virus. There are also many other HPV-associated cancers, such as head, neck and penile cancers, that may be prevented by the vaccine. So, if you have a preteen or teenage boy or girl – have him or her vaccinated!

Ross E. DeHovitz, M.D.

Ross E. DeHovitz, M.D.

Ross E. DeHovitz, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Palo Alto Center.