Four Things Parents Should Know about the HPV Vaccine

By Memorial Sloan Kettering,

Group of racially diverse boys and girls lying on grass and conversing.

In January 2016, MSK joined other top cancer organizations in an unprecedented statement calling for increased vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is known to cause many types of cancer. Here we provide updated information for parents on the HPV vaccine and when it should be given.

You can’t protect your kids from all the risks they’ll face as teenagers and young adults — but you can protect them from certain kinds of cancer. In January 2016, MSK joined forces with 68 other leading cancer centers to educate the public about the importance of having children vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Read the full statement.

The vaccine doesn’t just prevent HPV infection; it also protects against a growing list of cancers known to develop as a result of HPV infection.

Here’s what you need to know about the HPV vaccine’s safety, administration, and effectiveness.

When should my child get vaccinated?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that both boys and girls receive the vaccine at age 11 or 12 because it’s more effective before they become sexually active and are exposed to HPV. However, it is also recommended for young women until age 26 and young men until age 21 if they haven’t already received it. If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to their doctor or nurse about getting it for them as soon as possible.

It's really important to get all three shots, since we don't yet know how much protection against cancer is provided by getting only one or two shots.
Carol L. Brown
Carol L. Brown gynecologic surgeon
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How is the vaccine given?

HPV vaccination is a series of shots given over several months. All kids who are 11 or 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine six to twelve months apart. Although the CDC recommends starting vaccination at ages 11 or 12, adolescents ages 13-14 are also able to receive HPV vaccination on the two-dose schedule. Those who receive their two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine.

For anyone 15 or older, three shots will need to be given over 6 months. Also, three doses are still recommended for people with certain immunocompromising conditions aged 9 through 26 years.

It is very important to receive the entire series of shots to maximize effectiveness.

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What are the benefits of the vaccine?

Nearly 80 million Americans — about one in four — are currently infected with HPV. Extensive scientific research has shown that HPV causes a number of cancers that can be prevented in people who receive the HPV vaccine as children. Among these are cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women; penile cancer in men; and, in both men and women, anal cancer and cancer of the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat, at the rear of the mouth, including the back of the tongue and the tonsils).

There are currently three HPV vaccines: Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. Ask your family’s pediatrician which vaccine is best for your child. 

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Is there any reason to get any sort of booster or update if your child was vaccinated with the Gardacill prior to the guardicil 9 becoming available

Dear Alison, we recommend that you discuss this with your child's doctor. Thank you for your comment.

Our boys are 23 and 25. Are they too old to get vaccinated?

Dear Don, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an older cutoff age of 26 rather than 21 for men in certain high-risk groups. You can learn more here:

This is something your sons should discuss with their healthcare providers. Thank you for your comment.

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