Cervical Cancer Awareness and Teen Vaccines


Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about how teens and adults can protect themselves from the human papillomavirus or HPV. Currently, about 79 million Americans have been infected with HPV and many don’t even know. Each year more than 30,000 people are affected by cancers caused by HPV infection and more than 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

As a parent, you may have concerns or questions about the threat of  HPV and what that means for your child. Each year about 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV.  As a parent, you have a chance to protect your child. The HPV vaccination provides safe, effective and lasting protection against the HPV infections that most commonly cause cancer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to make sure their pre-teens, both girls and boys, are vaccinated.

Why vaccinate at such a young age?

The HPV vaccine is more effective when given to younger pre-teens and teens. As a result, teens starting the series before they turn 15-years-old now only need to receive a two doses of HPV vaccine, given 6 to 12 months apart. Teens who begin the series after their 15th birthday need to receive a 3-dose series given over a 6 month period in order to receive adequate protection. It’s recommended that your child begin the two-dose series of HPV vaccine at 11-12 years-old for full and lasting protection. If your child is behind schedule, it’s not too late to get caught up.

Do boys need to be vaccinated too?

HPV can also cause cancer of the mouth and throat, which is more common in males than females. It is extremely important to vaccinate boys. HPV vaccine can also prevent other HPV-related diseases, such as cancers of the penis and anus and genital warts. Since HPV infection often has no symptoms, men who are infected can spread HPV  to their partners. A preteen boy who receives the HPV vaccine can protect his future partner.

My child isn’t sexually active. Why does (s)he need the vaccine?

If you wait to vaccinate until your child is sexually active it may be too late to prevent cancer. Current research shows the immunity provided by HPV vaccine may last a lifetime. If your child is 11 years old or older it’s not too early to vaccinate. The vaccine is recommended when it is most effective, there’s no benefit to waiting until you child is older and you may be placing your child at risk.

Do condoms prevent the spread of HPV?

Condoms do reduce the risk of HPV transmission, but they do not eliminate the risk.  HPV can be spread by skin-to-skin contact and oral sex, not just sexual intercourse. Condoms only cover a limited amount of skin and HPV can be spread even if a condom is used every time a person has sex. For the best protection against HPV, parents should have their children vaccinated.

Is HPV vaccine safe?

Yes. HPV vaccine is safe and extremely effective, preventing nearly 100% of HPV-related cancers. The most common side effect of receiving the vaccine is fainting at the time of the injection, so it’s best to give it with the child lying down. There may also be some temporary discomfort at the injection site. Each of these side effects is more tolerable than cancer treatment.

Other pre-teen and teen vaccines

Teens and pre-teens need the meningococcal meningitis vaccine, the tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine , and the HPV vaccine—all given at age 11-12 years.. The “Bug Your Doc, Get 3 Shots” campaign is spreading awareness about these three important vaccines. You can find helpful videos and more information on the Bug Your Doc, Get 3 Shots website. Teens also need a booster dose of the meningococcal meningitis vaccine at age 16 years, and every child (over age 6 months) needs an annual influenza (flu) vaccine.

The Vaccines for Children Program

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program offers vaccines at no cost to eligible children through health care providers enrolled in the program. In Tennessee, VFC vaccines are available at all local health departments and through more than 600 other clinics that are enrolled in the VFC Program. Most pediatricians and many family doctors who see children participate in the VFC Program. For more information click here.  

Additional information

Recommended immunization schedules for children.