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Expert Q&A

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Is the HPV shot advised for teen males?

Asked by Natalie, Virginia

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What is the deal with the HPV shot for teen boys? I have heard that is now being advised for males. I have a 15-year-old son.

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. In October 2009, one HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, Gardasil, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in males in addition to females from 9 to 26 years of age. For more details about the virus and vaccine, I consulted with Dr. Jill Grimes, author of "Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs." She shared the following thoughts:

"The Gardasil vaccine was officially approved to prevent genital warts in boys, rather than the rare genital cancers (penile and anal) that it also potentially could prevent. Would I give it to my son? You bet. Right now in the United States over 20 million people are infected with HPV, and we see over 1 million cases of genital warts per year.

While it is true that the majority of people (men and women) infected with different strains of HPV never have symptoms, those that do suffer from genital warts may be greatly affected both physically and mentally. The warts themselves do NOT turn into cancer, nor do they overtly cause any other disease. They can grow to be large and cosmetically unsightly, but typically are painless or cause only itching or burning (in 20 percent).

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Unfortunately, they look ugly, and ultimately many people who have genital warts feel very negatively about themselves. Additionally, although 20 percent of warts may resolve without treatment, up to 25 percent return after treatment within the first three months. As one might imagine (especially if you have had a wart frozen on your knee or finger), the treatment itself causes significant physical discomfort as well.

My bottom line is that young people making major decisions about their lives, careers, and life partners have enough stress without adding the burden of potential poor self-image inflicted by a viral disease such as genital warts. The vaccine has been shown to be safe, and I recommend it to my own patients and family members."

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