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Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: The importance of the HPV Vaccine

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Teen Getting an Injection

It’s time for your 11-year-old son’s annual check-up with his primary care provider. His annual check-up has covered the same things since he was a baby: In what percentile is his height and weight? Has he had his annual flu shot? Has he been getting regular eye exams?

One of the last things a parent of an 11-year-old boy expects to be asked is “Do you want him to get his HPV vaccine?”

It’s a shocking question to say the least, whether you’re the parent of a preteen boy or a girl. It’s easy to dismiss the question itself as inappropriate and decline the vaccine. But parents should re-consider such a knee-jerk response.

With January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to consider that cervical cancer is more than just a women’s-only affliction. Some forms of HPV lead to cervical cancer, and everybody can play a role in preventing it, and that includes parents of pre-teen children.

Why is my preteen offered the HPV vaccine?

HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually-transmitted infection. According to the American Sexual Health Association, 14 million new cases of HPV occur each year in the United States, and over a lifetime, nine out of 10 people are infected with some form of HPV.

But you may ask, “why does this matter to my preteen, especially if I have a preteen boy?”

First of all, both males and females can contract HPV. Secondly, the facts state that some forms of HPV lead to cervical cancer, and reducing HPV cases help lower the incidence of cervical cancer. In clinical trials administered from 2004-06 to women aged 16-26 from 33 countries, the HPV vaccine was shown to be almost 100% effective in preventing cell abnormalities in the cervix caused by cancer-causing forms of HPV. These cell abnormalities potentially lead to cervical cancer later in life.

Again, why does this matter to parents of preteens? It’s been found that the vaccine works best if given before sexual activity begins, which has led doctors to recommend vaccination for every 11 and 12-year-old. Children are recommended to receive their first HPV vaccine at 11 or 12 years of age, then receive a second dose six to 12 months later.

The taboo of the HPV vaccine – and how to overcome it

Doctors in the United States understand vaccines related to sexual activity, especially vaccines offered to preteens, may shock and frighten some parents. As is the case with most vaccines, parents are not required to vaccinate their children for HPV, whether its for moral reasons or an opposite to vaccination in general.

However, according to the World Health Organization, the vaccine is safe, it does not lead to increased sexual activity in young teens, and itself does not cause HPV. While it may be uncomfortable to think that our preteen will eventually become sexually active, the science is ironclad regarding the connection between HPV and cervical cancer. No matter whether you have a male or female preteen child, the HPV vaccine can help save a life.

When your child is due for their next annual exam, ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine.

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