The HPV Vaccine: Health 101

Is the HPV vaccine really necessary?

Because HPV is so common and can lead to cancer, most doctors think getting this vaccine is very important for young girls. "HPV causes thousands of women to suffer and die from cervical cancer each year," says Paul Offit, MD, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and a member of American Baby magazine's advisory board. "Getting vaccinated before your daughter is sexually active can reduce her risk of getting cervical cancer by 70 percent."

Some parents may feel uncomfortable having their daughters vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease -- especially at such a young age -- because it may spark a discussion about sex that they're just not quite prepared to have. Others may worry that being vaccinated will cause a tween or teen to become sexually active earlier or to engage in riskier behavior once she is having sex. "But research shows that girls decide whether or not to start having sex based on things like personal or family values -- not whether or not they've had a vaccine," says Dr. Halsey. "There's no evidence that getting the HPV vaccine will change your daughter's behavior." And if you and your child aren't ready for a formal safe-sex chat yet, you can just tell her that the vaccine helps prevent cancer, and leave it at that, says Dr. Halsey.

It's important to remember that the HPV vaccine only protects against four strains of the virus, so even girls and women who are vaccinated can get other types, including those that cause cervical cancer. So when the time comes, it's important to talk to your daughter about safe sex. All sexually active girls and women -- vaccinated or not -- should receive regular Pap smears (a screening test that can detect irregular cells before they become precancerous or cancers).

Sources: Neal Halsey, MD, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland and a member of the Parents magazine board of advisors. Paul Offit, MD, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and a member of the American Baby magazine advisory board member. Michael T. Brady, MD, the Vice Chair of the AAP's Committee on Infectious Diseases. Robert W. Sears, MD, author of The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child. CDC sections on HPV, HPV Vaccination, and Cervical Cancer. Children's Hospital of Boston's Center for Young Women's Health section on the HPV Vaccine. Mayo Clinic section on HPV Vaccination.



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