If someone told you that you or your child could get a vaccine to help prevent cancer, what would your answer be?
The human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine can do just that. Approved in 2006, the vaccine works against strains of the virus that cause cervical cancer, other cancers of the reproductive system and anus, as well as genital warts.
But despite the fact that the vaccine has been found to be 100 percent effective, the vaccine has also been the subject of some controversy since HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, and like most vaccines, it’s recommended that the vaccine be given during childhood, between ages 9 and 13 (teens and young adults ages 13 to 26 who have not been vaccinated can also get the vaccine series). Here are some common questions that can help you decide if the HPV vaccine is the right choice for your family:
If the virus is spread through sex, why does my child need to receive it?
Like most vaccines, the HPV vaccine works best before exposure to the virus. Since HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, it’s recommended that boys and girls get vaccinated well before they start having sex. The three-shot series can be given at as young as age 9, but is recommended for boys and girls 11 to 12 years old.
Then why is it approved for up to age 26?
While the vaccine works best for individuals who have never been sexually active, it’s still safe and works well for older teens and young adults.
By giving the vaccine, are we saying it’s OK for our teens to have sex?
Actually research has shown that teens who receive the HPV vaccine are not more likely to have sex. In fact, having an open and honest conversation with your children about sex and reproductive health makes it more likely that they will delay having sex until they are older and more mature—and makes it more likely that they will use birth control methods such as condoms.
Who shouldn’t get the vaccine?
If you or your child has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to yeast or to any other component to the HPV vaccine—or to a previous dose of the vaccine—don’t get or continue the vaccine and make sure to inform your doctor. Also, if you are pregnant, you should not get the vaccine.
What else can we do to prevent cervical and other reproductive cancers?
Regular checkups and Pap smears are still essential, even if you or your child does receive the HPV vaccine series. And as always, practicing safe sex is essential to help prevent cervical cancer as well as other sexually transmitted diseases. If you haven’t had “the conversation” yet with your teen, now is a great time to start.