HPV Vaccines – Cancer Prevention for Girls and Boys

We all want to protect our children from harm. One way to do that is to vaccinate them against diseases – particularly any disease that has cancer associated with it. One such cancer- and precancer-related disease is the human papillomavirus (HPV).

There is much talk about HPV, but what do we really know about it?

HPV is a common skin-to-skin infection, not always sexually transmitted, that is associated with several types of cancer. When the HPV vaccine first came out in 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended it for girls only, since the disease was most closely associated with cervical cancer. But additional studies have linked HPV to several other cancers, such as throat and mouth, which also affect men. That led to FDA approval of the vaccine for boys in 2009.

Over 50 percent of men and women are exposed to HPV at some point in their lifetime, according to the FDA. In most people, the virus will clear within a few years. There are no symptoms associated with HPV, so it is hard to know if you are infected. A Pap smear can detect HPV. A flare-up of genital warts is often a sign of HPV.

There are more than 100 strains of HPV. Only 15 of these “high-risk” types will develop into cancer. It takes about three years for a precancerous lesion to form and it can take about 10 years for a precancerous lesion to become a cancer, according to the FDA.

“I always recommend the HPV vaccine to my patients, because the vaccine has been proven to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts,” said Luisa Lopez-Luciano, M.D., a certified family practice physician at Homestead Hospital. “I want parents to be comfortable with their decision so I refer them to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] website for complete  information. After reading it, they usually come back to get the vaccine.”

The HPV vaccine is most effective when given before a person’s first sexual contact, when they may be exposed to the virus. This is why the CDC recommends giving the vaccine at ages 11 and 12. This gives ample time for the body to develop immunity, as sexual activity usually begins between the ages of 16 and 25. Children who receive the vaccine at an early age will be protected during the years they are most susceptible.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 12,340 new cases of invasive cervical cancer (cancer that has spread beyond the cervix) in 2013 and 4,030 deaths. Additionally, throat and mouth cancers are also on the rise in men, and it is predicted that by 2020 the number of males affected by the disease will surpass that of women with cervical cancer.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician about the benefits of this vaccine to help you make an informed decision.


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