True Parent 3
Odds are, you or someone you know has been infected with human papillomavirus, or HPV. It’s so common that most sexually active men and women will catch at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. You also probably know that 70 percent of cervical cancer diagnoses are caused by HPV, which can also be responsible for penile and rectal cancer.
Here’s what you may not know: You or your teen can contract HPV through any type of intimate sexual contact—including vaginal, anal and oral sex. You don’t even have to have intercourse to become infected.
The good news is there’s a vaccine that prevents infection with the most common strains of HPV—and it’s really good at what it does. However, the vaccine must be given before exposure to the virus in order to work. That’s why I recommend giving the vaccine to teen girls and boys (yep, teen boys catch and spread HPV, too) typically starting at age 11, but even as young as age 9.
As a fellowship trained adolescent medicine physician, I often see teens and young adults who are devastated to learn they have HPV because they’ve always used protection. While condoms are important, they’re unable to prevent all HPV infections. If infected skin touches skin, the virus can spread. That’s why this particular vaccine is so important in preventing HPV infections.
Another sobering reminder: According to the 2013 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 45.2 percent of 11th grade students have had sex, and of those only 29.1 percent reported using a condom. While you can encourage your teen to make smart choices, at the end of the day, they’re going to make their own decisions. What you can do is ensure they complete the HPV vaccine series of three shots before they’re exposed to the infection.
As parents, we want the best for our kids. Knowing that you can help prevent your teen from getting HPV now—and possibly cancer in the future—why wouldn’t you get him/her vaccinated? Talk to your teen and his/her doctor about HPV. (And go to cdc.gov/hpv to learn more!)