In 2006, pharmaceutical company Merck introduced a vaccine to prevent 4 major strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV. Commercials explained how the vaccine benefits girls and women by protecting them from many types of cancer, including mouth, throat, and cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, boys and men were not mentioned in earlier commercials even though 66% of men will be infected by HPV at least once during their life. Parents who wish to protect their children need to learn more about HPV and how the vaccine protects those at risk. Here’s the truth about boys and the HPV vaccine.
What Is HPV?
HPV is a common virus of the reproductive tract and is transmitted skin to skin through casual or non-sexual contact and during oral, anal, and vaginal sex. In fact, the virus is so common that 14 million people are diagnosed each year. Like any virus, there is no cure for HPV, but it is preventable via the vaccine.
HPV carriers may not know they are infected as the virus often has no symptoms. However, they can still infect others during sex. Sometimes symptoms of the virus appear as genital warts. Warts may be tiny bumps or clusters of large, white lumps. Certain strains of HPV lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vagina, mouth, throat, penis, and tonsils.
How Do Boys Become Infected?
Because HPV is transmitted sexually, boys are just as likely to encounter the virus as girls. Boys can become infected when they have sex with any infected partner. Skin to skin contact that transmits the virus is not limited to vaginal sex. Boys may still be at risk for infection if they engage in oral or anal sex.
Like their female counterparts, males can be a higher risk for infection in certain situations. Boys are more likely to contract the virus under certain circumstances:
- High numbers of sexual partners increase their chances of encountering the virus.
- Sex with a partner who has a high number of partners also increases chances of infection.
- Areas of damaged skin make it easier for the virus to enter their body.
- Weak immune system from HIV or organ transplants lowers their ability to fight the virus.
Can Boys Get Cancer From HPV?
The CDC estimates that about 42,700 HPV-associated cancers occur in the United States each year with approximately 24,400 among women, and 18,300 among men. Cervical cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer among women, and oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils) are the most common among men. In general, HPV is thought to be responsible for more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and more than 60% of penile cancers.
How Can You Help Your Child Prevent HPV?
The HPV vaccine is one of the most effective methods you can use to help prevent HPV in your children. The vaccine prevents many types of HPV, particularly those like 16 and 18 that can lead to cervical and other kinds of cancer.
The CDC recommends the first vaccine start for both boys and girls at age 11 or 12. Even if your child is not yet sexually active, this early age ensures they are protected before they are exposed to the virus. If your child has not yet had a vaccine, they can still receive it. Stellis Health uses HPV9 (Gardasil 9) which is approved for use with everyone up to age 45. For more information about the HPV vaccine, talk to one of our health care professionals. We can assist you with your child’s vaccine schedule and offer advice regarding HPV and other vaccines.