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Don’t Give Cervical Cancer a Chance: Vaccinate Against HPV

As a parent, you’re probably well aware of all the childhood shots that prevent diseases like polio and measles. And, you’re more than familiar with the annual vaccine that fends off the flu. But did you know there’s an immunization proven to help protect against cancer?

HPV, or human papillomavirus, causes almost all cervical cancers. Learning about the HPV vaccine—and choosing to have your kids get it—can reduce their risk for infection and HPV-related diseases. 

Even if you’re unsure about vaccine benefits versus risks, the details below can help you stay informed and start an open conversation with your child’s healthcare provider.

Vaccination Leads to Better Health

The HPV vaccine does an excellent job of vanquishing the virus. Clinical trials show the shot provides nearly 100% protection against precancers. It also offers a potent defense against the strain of HPV that causes genital warts.

Understandably, you might be worried about side effects. After all, parents never want to see their children in harm’s way. But you can breathe easy—the side effects from the vaccine are typically mild and ay include arm swelling, fever or headache. And, because the shot contains only one protein from the virus, it can’t cause HPV infections or cancer.

HPV and Cancer—Know the Risks

HPV is spread through sexual contact. Almost every sexually active person will eventually catch at least one of the more than 40 strains if they don’t get the vaccine. In fact, nearly 80 million Americans currently have HPV.

Nine out of 10 times, these infections go away on their own—and many cause no symptoms at all. Most people never even know they have HPV. But one in 10 infections will eventually cause health problems. Besides cervical cancer, these include:

  • Anal, vulvar, vaginal or penile cancer.
  • Genital warts.
  • Cancer in the back of the throat.

Every year, cancer caused by HPV affects about 19,400 women and 12,100 men. That’s why vaccination matters for boys as well as girls.

The Time to Act Is Now      

Your preteens’ healthcare provider may ask you about getting your child the shot. You might be surprised that he or she brings it up, even if you don’t think your child is sexually active. However, the HPV vaccine works best in people who haven’t yet been exposed to the virus through sexual contact.

Current recommendations advise that all boys and girls age 11 or 12 get two doses of the HPV vaccine spaced at least six months apart. But, even older teens and young adults can benefit. Young adults can catch up on the vaccine through age 26.

Maybe you’re ready to move forward with the vaccine, or maybe you still have questions—that’s OK. Either way, pick a time to call your child’s provider. He or she can talk through any concerns and help you decide the best way to protect your little one’s future health.