April 27, 2012
Dear Mayo Clinic:
I've heard that the HPV vaccine is now being recommended for boys. Why? Does my 12-year-old son really need this?
Yes, the HPV4 vaccine (brand name Gardasil) is now routinely recommended for all boys 11 to 12 years of age. It is a good idea for boys to receive this vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The vaccine was first developed to prevent cervical cancer in girls when they grow up to become women. But it's important for boys to get vaccinated against HPV to protect them when they grow up to be men. The vaccine can prevent cancer, as well as prevent the spread of HPV.
HPV are dangerous, sexually transmitted viruses that cause a host of health problems. Two strains of the virus cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer. HPV infections can also lead to other genital and anal cancers in women, and penile cancer and anal cancer in men. In addition, HPV causes genital warts as well as mouth and throat cancers.
The HPV4 vaccine is a safe, effective vaccine that can help prevent HPV infection, cancers and warts. The vaccine is given as a series of three shots over six months. For the vaccine to be effective, a person needs to receive all three doses before being exposed to HPV infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends the HPV4 vaccine for boys 11 to 12 years old. The vaccination series can be started at age 9. The vaccine is also recommended for boys and men 13 to 22 years of age who have not been vaccinated.
While the HPV vaccine recommendation for girls includes either form of vaccine, HPV2 (brand name Cervarix) or HPV4, the recommendation for boys only includes HPV4. HPV2 vaccine is not licensed for boys or men. HPV4 vaccine protects against four strains of HPV virus, including two that cause most of the cervical cancer and two that cause most of the genital warts. HPV2 vaccine protects against the two strains that cause most of the cervical cancer.
In men, the HPV4 vaccine can prevent cancers of the mouth, throat, penis and anus, which are serious when they occur. Each year in the U.S., 7,000 men develop one of these cancers caused by the strains protected against by the HPV4 vaccine. Furthermore, each year in the U.S., more than 225,000 men develop a case of genital warts caused by the strains protected against by the HPV4 vaccine.
In addition, while men obviously cannot get cervical cancer, they can carry HPV and spread it to their partners. HPV is very common. About 50 percent of the population, both men and women, develop an HPV infection. Many people who carry HPV never have signs or symptoms, and they don't know they have it. By vaccinating boys against HPV, we are helping to protect women from developing cervical cancer.
Vaccinating boys against HPV when they are 11 or 12 is good timing. At that age, children's bodies respond to vaccines better than they do later in life. Three doses appear to give lifelong immunity. In addition, many older teenagers are sexually active. Vaccines are most effective if they are given before the individual is at risk of being exposed to HPV.
The HPV4 vaccine has been proven safe. The process it went through before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration was extensive. Since then, more than 60 million doses of HPV4 vaccine have been given and closely monitored. A wealth of data supports the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
In the past, there was concern that HPV vaccine could lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder. That was fully investigated, and no association was found. In addition, there is absolutely no evidence to support claims that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.
The HPV vaccine is a safe, effective anti-cancer vaccine. It can protect your son's health. It can also help prevent the spread of cervical cancer, a disease that can destroy a woman's fertility or end her life. Mayo Clinic strongly recommends the HPV vaccine for both girls and boys.
— Robert M. Jacobson, M.D., Medical Director, Employee and Community Health, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.