A fewweeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration changed their recommendation for the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine for teenage males from “approved” to “recommended.” Translation: This important vaccine, once recommended for pre-teen, teen and 20-something young women, is now recommended for teen-aged and 20-something guys, too.
The HPV vaccine is safe for males. I personally worked on HPV vaccine safety studies (full disclosure: I was compensated by Merck for my time). We have known for a while that HPV is safe in males – just as it is in girls and women. The only significant side effect is that teenage males will sometimes faint after getting a shot — but that seems independent of the ingredients in the shot itself. (Keeping young men seated for 15 minutes afterward reduces fainting risk.)
The HPV vaccine protects against several forms of cancer. Most people think about HPV as just preventing cervical cancer in women. Obviously, men do not develop cervical cancer. But there are plenty of other important benefits that make this vaccine worthwhile:
- We know from other studies that HPV vaccine prevents anal cancer in men (HPV is the only known cause of anal cancer).
- It may prevent penile cancer in uncircumcised men.
- HPV-16 is more prevalent in adults at high risk for oral cancer. Men who drink alcohol, smoke, chew tobacco, or have many sexual partners are six times more likely to have HPV-16 (the strain associated with 85 percent of HPV-related cancers) in their mouth. HPV vaccine prevents HPV-16 from flourishing in the mouth, animal studies show.
- The vaccine may help prevent the transmission of HPV to women, as well. Experts are still debating this, but since several strains of HPV cause cervical cancer in women, stopping the spread of this virus in every way possible is important. (Young women should receive the vaccine, too.)
Don’t wait ‘til he’s older. Still worried? Some parents will say: “my son is so young and this is about sex!” But this vaccine is most effective if guys receive all three doses before they are sexually active. And — like it or not — most kids will soon be young adults and will have sex.
So when your medical practitioner wants to give your 11- to 26-year- old son the series of three HPV immunizations, say yes. Health insurance now pays for the vaccine. If you do not have insurance and your child is not eligible for free immunizations, the HPV vaccine series will cost over $600. Expensive, but you may decide it’s worth the price.