By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter
St. Louis (KSDK) - It's been five years since a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer has been available for young girls and women in the U.S.
In this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment, we take a look at why it's now recommended for boys.
"From the medical community perspective there is every reason to support using this vaccine for routine use," said Dr. Lauren Arnold, an epidemiologist with Washington University School of Medicine and the Siteman Cancer Center.
It's one of the few vaccines that can actually prevent cancer.
HPV stands for human papilloma virus, and the sexually transmitted infection is known to cause cervical, genital and possibly even oral cancer.
But both men and women can spread HPV which is why the vaccine is now recommended for boys.
"HPV, like other sexually transmitted infections, can be a little tricky because you can be infected and not have symptoms," said Dr. Arnold. "So you can pass it along to other individuals without even knowing that you're putting somebody else at risk."
And the risks of the disease are well known. Four thousand cervical cancer deaths are diagnosed every year in this country, and 12,000 cases are diagnosed. And it's believed the vaccine could prevent 70 to 75 percent of those cases.
A total of three shots are needed to provide full protection, and the target age for girls and boys is 11 or 12.
"Even though it's recommended for 11 and 12 year old boys and girls right now, the vaccine can be given as young as age 9 and it can be given as old as age 26," said Dr. Arnold.
Doctors say it's safe and effective. But because it's so new, they also know there's a lot of potential for confusion.
"So I think it's very important for people to talk with their health care providers about this option and really feel comfortable with the decisions they're making," said Dr. Arnold.