Should Boys and Girls Be Vaccinated Against HPV?

By Robert Haddad, MD

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccinations were originally advised only for girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Pediatrics now recommend that both girls and boys be vaccinated. The recommendations are well founded: HPV infection is the number one cause of oropharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the middle part of the throat and is diagnosed in about 14,000 Americans each year. Men are three times more likely than women to develop oropharyngeal cancers linked to HPV.

Robert Haddad, MD
Robert Haddad, MD

Infection with HPV often occurs through sexual contact, and the CDCP recommends that vaccination occur in the pre-teen years. (The upper recommended age limit is 26 for women, 21 for men.) Current vaccines offer protection against four strains of the virus – strains 16 and 18, which cause oropharyngeal and cervical cancer, and strains 6 and 11, which cause genital warts.

The vaccine is administered in three doses – the second dose given one or two months after the first, and the third given four or five months later.

Unfortunately, only about 35 percent of all American girls ages 13 to 17 have been fully vaccinated against HPV. In Massachusetts, for example, while two-thirds of girls ages 13 to 17 have received one dose of the vaccine, statistics show, only 47 percent have received all three doses. The rates are likely lower for boys, because the recommendation that they be vaccinated was issued just two years ago. We need to make a concerted effort to improve vaccination rates locally and nationally.

Robert Haddad, MD is director of the Center for Head and Neck Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. See his discussion on this subject on an online chat at Huffington Post Live

Below, Dr. Haddad talks about HPV and cancer risk.