HPV Vaccine for Boys: Cancer Protection for the Future
Jan 06, 2023
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that can cause warts on different parts of the body. The common types of HPV can cause cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers. The HPV vaccine was first approved in 2006 for females aged 9-26 for the prevention of these cancers. Recent data shows this vaccine has almost eliminated cervical cancer in women in the United Kingdom.
The HPV vaccine was approved for boys in 2009 and the newer vaccine covers nine types of HPV. Still, vaccination rates for boys in the United States are significantly lower than the rates for girls.
So why should boys, who aren’t at risk of cervical cancer, care about this vaccine? HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection affecting 40% of adults aged 15-59. While many types of HPV do not cause any health problems, there are several types that are directly linked to the development of different cancers: cervical cancer in women, but penile cancer in men, anal cancer in both men and women as well as throat, tongue and tonsil cancers. Many of these cancers develop silently and can be discovered years or even decades after exposure to HPV. They can be very aggressive and even fatal. The vaccine also protects against precancerous lesions and genital warts.
Four out of every 10 cases of HPV related cancer are in males. Currently there is no screening for these cancers in men, and no treatment for HPV once the virus is contracted. This makes HPV prevention with the vaccine even more essential.
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
The HPV vaccine is recommended for all individuals, male and female, age 9-26. This is a two-dose vaccine, 6-12 months apart. Occasionally a third dose may be recommended, for example if you are over 15 when you start the vaccine, of if you are immunocompromised.
Are There Risks to the Vaccine?
The cancer-preventing benefits of the HPV vaccine far outweigh any risk of the vaccine. All vaccines in the US undergo extensive testing through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and this vaccine is no different. Expected adverse reactions are similar to a flu shot: pain, redness and swelling at the injection site. From the approximately 28 million doses of Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine that have been distributed in the United States, only around 7000 people have reported adverse side effects, 97% of which were non-serious.
But My Child Isn’t Sexually Active Yet!
The HPV vaccine is most effective if given prior to any exposure to HPV. Since HPV is transmitted with sexual activity, it is best if the vaccine is given prior to a person becoming sexually active. The protection against HPV lasts through adulthood, so even if you don’t think your child will be sexually active soon, being vaccinated can protect them for when they are. If your child is already sexually active, the HPV vaccine can still protect against HPV and vaccination is still recommended.
Having your child, male or female, vaccinated against HPV is cancer prevention and is safe and effective. It’s a great way to protect them and future partners.
Daniel G. DaJusta, MD, is a surgeon in the Section of Urology and the Director of Urologic Surgery for the Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Molly Fuchs, MD
Molly Fuchs, MD is a physician in the Pediatric Urology department of Nationwide Children's Hospital. Dr. Fuchs is also a surgeon on the Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction team.
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