(Feb. 28, 2012)
The vaccine that protects girls from the virus that causes cervical cancer and other cancers is now being recommended for boys starting at age 11.
That's the message from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it's good advice, said Dr. David Holder, a clinical associate professor and adolescent health specialist at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.
With the previous recommendation focusing on girls, doctors were giving the vaccine "all the while knowing 50 percent of the map was not being covered," Holder said. "In some settings, one in four or one in five kids have this disease and don't know they have it."
Human papillomaviruses cause a large number of cancers of the mouth and throat, cervix and genital organs, the AAP said. HPV are the most common sexually transmitted viruses in the United States, and the highest prevalence of HPV infection is found in sexually active adolescents and young adults.
The AAP on Monday published a revised policy statement that recommends routine vaccination against human papillomaviruses for males and females at 11 to 12 years of age. The vaccine is most effective if administered before the onset of sexual activity, and antibody responses to the vaccine are highest at ages 9 through 15, the academy said.
The recommendation is published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics
Holder said some parents might be opposed to their children receiving the vaccine, believing that it will encourage sexual activity.
"I've never heard of anything that substantiates that," he said. "Look at the facts and less at the fire."
Every year in the United States, approximately 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and almost 4,000 die from this disease, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most cases of cervical cancer and all cases of genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus.
Men can also contract cancer of the penis, anus and throat from HPV.
Estimates are that most sexually active people will contract genital HPV at some point, but in most it will not show any symptoms and go away on its own, according to the CDC. But certain types might cause genital warts and, in rare cases, cancer.
Holder recommended that parents talk with their children about the vaccine, sex and sexually transmitted diseases.
The vaccine is sold under two trade names, Gardasil, made by Merck, and Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline and not yet approved for boys. The three-shot regimen for Gardisil costs approximately $360. No serious side effects have been found other than soreness at the injection site.
"The take-home message here is get it early, girls and boys," Holder said.