Why boys need the HPV vaccine, too

April 27, 2017

By Maggie Klee

Vaccines are an incredibly powerful tool to Stop Cancer Before It Starts!®, yet vaccine uptake rates are staggeringly low across the United States. The Think About the Link® campaign aims to raise awareness of the link between certain viruses and cancer and encourages you to talk to your health care professional about vaccination. One virus the campaign focuses on, human papillomavirus (HPV), can lead to several types of cancer—but recent data show only 40 percent of eligible girls and 22 percent of eligible boys have received the vaccine. We are already seeing the harmful effects of these low vaccination rates.

Oropharyngeal cancer is cancer in the middle part of your throat, including the base of the tongue, side and back walls of the throat and the tonsils. HPV causes about 75 percent of cases and it is twice as common in men as women. Oropharyngeal cancer rates have been on the rise in men in the United States in recent years. The low HPV vaccine uptake rate, particularly among young men, is a major cause of the problem.

At the Foundation’s Dialogue for Action® conference last week, Dr. Erich Sturgis, a head and neck surgeon at MD Anderson, talked about the issue of low HPV vaccination rates in boys and the rise in oropharyngeal cancers. Because the cancer site is a difficult area to examine, most cases are diagnosed in a late stage when it is more difficult to treat. Oropharyngeal cancer rates are rising 10 percent per year in men and it is now more common than cervical cancer in women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) didn’t recommend HPV vaccination for boys until 2011 (five years after it was recommended for girls). This delay, combined with the challenge of detecting this cancer early, has contributed to an increase in oropharyngeal cancer incidence.

What can you do?

If your son is 11-12 years old, make sure he receives the HPV vaccine. Most men who have not been vaccinated can receive a catch-up vaccine until age 21. This week is World Immunization Week and the perfect reminder to get your children vaccinated and talk about the lifesaving power of vaccines in your community. Remember, the HPV vaccine isn’t just a prevention method for the virus, but for at least six types of cancer, including oropharyngeal cancer.

To learn more about the link between viruses and cancer, visit ThinkAboutTheLink.org.

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