There has been so much talk about getting the HPV vaccine for girls, but not much has been said about getting it for boys, too. There's now a new health campaign to protect our sons from cancer as well.
Carolyn Hopwood is the mother of three. While she knew to vaccinate her daughters against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer in girls, she was not aware she should also get the shot for her teenage son.
"The doctor said 'Are you gonna get your son vaccinated?' I said, 'Why would I do that?' He said, 'Boys are getting vaccinated now because it does prevent cancer in boys and also prevents HPV and we recommend you get it.' I said, 'Let's do it!' " said Hopwood.
The shot works the same for boys and girls; a series of three shots over six months. Pediatricians have been recommending it since the vaccine was approved for boys in 2011.
"This vaccine is best given at an early age," said Dr Mario Sangillo of Jones Daly Coldren And Associates. "Your immune system responds better when you are young, so we recommend that you give the vaccine to kids at age 11."
The Pennsylvania Immunization Coalition has launched the Driving Toward Cancer Prevention campaign. Millions have HPV and don't know it. Just like in girls, HPV can cause cancer in boys.
"The HPV infection may show up later in life as penile or anal cancers, throat and neck cancers. Those are cancers we see in males," said Joanne Sullivan of the Pennsylvania Immunization Coalition.
Doctors say the vaccine works best before someone is sexually active, but Sullivan is quick to counter critics who say it promotes sex among teens.
"This is not a vaccine about a license to have sex. It's a vaccine that protects against cancer," said Sullivan.
Unlike girls who can get a pap test to detect HPV, there currently is no screening for boys. They won't know they have HPV until a lesion or genital wart shows up. The vaccine is also covered by most insurance.