Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting nearly one in four people in the United States. It is thought to be responsible for more than 90 percent of anal and cervical cancers, about 70 percent of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and more than 60 percent of penile cancers. HPV is also linked to cancers of the throat and tongue.
The HPV vaccine can prevent the infection and associated cancers and is recommended for all preteen boys and girls around age 11 to 12. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots, each a few months apart. Women who missed the vaccine as teens can receive the shot through age 26, and men through age 21. But the shot works best when given well before a person becomes sexually active.
Some parents are hesitant about the vaccine because it raises the uncomfortable issue of their child’s sexuality — often before the onset of puberty. If you are hesitant about the vaccine, I encourage you to have an open conversation with your child’s doctor to have all of your questions answered.