Vaccinate your child against HPV

Human Papillomavirus can cause cancer and other diseases in women and men



HPV—or Human Papillomavirus—is a group of viruses that spreads through skin-to-skin contact and is very common. In fact, almost everyone will have HPV at some point in their lives. 

Fortunately, for most people, HPV goes away on its own, but that’s not always the case. When HPV doesn’t get cleared by the immune system, it can cause cancer and other diseases.

Many people know that HPV can cause cervical cancer in women, but it can also cause other types of cancer, including cancers in men. The most common HPV-related cancer in New Hampshire is head and neck cancer, and almost eight out of 10 of these cases occur in men.

But there is a safe and effective vaccine that can help prevent cancers caused by HPV. The HPV vaccine that’s widely available in New Hampshire protects against nine types of HPV, including seven types that cause cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30,700 cases of cancer are caused by HPV each year in the United States, and more than 90 percent (over 28,000 cases) could be prevented by the vaccine.

The vaccine is safe; its safety has been tracked for over 10 years, and it has an excellent safety record. The most common side effects are dizziness and soreness in the arm where the shot was given, which are similar to side effects experienced with other vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Cancer Society, and many other organizations strongly recommend that all children get vaccinated against HPV at age 11 or 12. All 11 and 12 year-olds should get two shots of the HPV vaccine six to 12 months apart and should get both shots before they turn 13.

It’s important children get the vaccine at that age because the immune response to the vaccine is stronger when the child is younger and the vaccine can only protect against HPV if it’s given before being exposed to HPV.

If your child is 13-14 years old and hasn’t received their first shot yet, be sure to call your child’s health care provider to start the HPV vaccine series. Once your child turns 15, if they haven’t received any HPV shots yet, they will need to get three shots to get a strong enough immune response to protect against HPV. Older teens and young adults who haven’t received any or all of their shots should also talk with their health care providers about getting the vaccine. Men usually get the vaccine through age 21, and women through age 26.

Thanks to New Hampshire’s Vaccine for Children program, children through age 18 are able to get the HPV vaccine at no cost. You can go to your regular health care provider, who orders the vaccine from the program. To learn more about Vaccine for Children, go to www.dhhs.nh.gov.

For more information about the HPV vaccine, go to www.cdc.gov/hpv or talk with your child’s health care provider.

Ardis Olson is a Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Community and Family Medicine at The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

More health columns from Dartmouth Hitchcock

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What you need to know about booster seats

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How to prevent tick-borne illnesses

Covering up, using repellent and checking yourself for ticks is key

Keep your heart healthy

How to reduce your risk of developing heart disease
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