What Parents Should Know About the HPV Vaccine for Boys

Protecting Against Genital Warts and Certain Cancers

HPV Vaccinations
HPV vaccinations. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in four people are infected with human papillomavirus, or HPV, in the United States. It's most common in people in their late teen years and in their early 20s.  

The good news is that the majority of HPV infections clear on their own. In fact, most people do not even know they had the infection, as it often causes no signs or symptoms.

On the flip side, though, some people carry the HPV infection longer, and it may cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. This is why it's important that preteen girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine, Gardasil

If you are a parent of a pre-teen boy, it's important to understand what types of cancer the HPV vaccine protects against, whether there are any side effects associated with it, and why your son should get the vaccine sooner than later.

Importance of Giving Boys the HPV Vaccine

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is spread during skin touching, which may occur during vaginal, oral, or anal sex, or even without sex, but through genital-genital contact or hand-to-genital contact. Specifically, HPV infection in males can cause cancer of the penis, and in both men and women, it can cause cancer of the anus and mouth/throat. 

The Gardasil 9 vaccine helps protect against nine particular strains of HPV: types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 whereas the Gardasil vaccine protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18.

These are the HPV strains that cause many types of cancer and genital warts. 

Learn more about the specific medical conditions that the HPV vaccine can help protect against:

Genital Warts

Genital warts are flesh-toned or gray, raised or flat growths that appear on, in, and/or around the genitals. They can grow in clusters that resemble cauliflower, or they can appear singularly.

In males, they can appear on the penis, scrotum, testicles, anus, groin, and thighs.

In most cases, there is no major health risk associated with genital warts. But genital warts can be embarrassing and unsightly, so don't forget to factor in a certain amount of psychological distress. Medical treatment is required to remove them (it often takes multiple visits), and there is no cure for the condition.

Cancer: Anal, Penile, and Mouth/Throat

An HPV infection can sometimes lead to anal cancer and penile cancer in males. Anal cancer may cause symptoms like rectal itching or bleeding, pain or a sensation of fullness in the anal area, an abnormal discharge from the anus, or a change in bowel movements, like thinning stools. 

Penile cancer is rare and may cause a change in the skin on the penis like a lump or growth, or swelling at the end of the penis. 

Oropharyngeal cancer, which refers to cancer of the throat, mouth, tongue, and/or tonsils, is a type of head and neck cancer that can also be caused by HPV. It's interesting to note that males are more likely than females to develop HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer, although it's not totally clear why.

Several Types of Cancer in Females

If men are more protected against "high-risk" strains of HPV, then women are less likely to contract them via genital-to-genital contact, and therefore, women are less likely to contract cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, and anal cancer.

In other words, by vaccinating your son, you may save someone else's daughter from a potentially life-threatening disease. 

Why Is the HPV Vaccine Given at Such a Young Age?

The vaccine is less effective in those who have already been exposed to HPV. This is why the HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen boys and girls at age 11 or 12 years old, so they are protected before they become sexually active and are potentially exposed to the virus.

Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that when the HPV vaccine is administered during the preteen years, it produces a more robust immune response.

HPV Vaccine Safety

In clinical trials involving boys and Gardasil, the vaccine proved to be a safe and effective prevention tool against HPV. Commonly reported side effects included:

  • Pain, redness, and/or swelling at the injection site
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or joint pain

No serious side effects were reported. According to the CDC, the benefits of receiving the HPV vaccine far outweigh the risk for developing any potential side effects. 

That said, those who are severely allergic to yeast or to other ingredients in Gardasil should not get the vaccine. Talk to your son's pediatrician if you are concerned about an allergic reaction.

A Word From Verywell

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. While it usually goes away on its own, it can lead to genital warts (an emotionally distressing condition) and/or cancer, specifically anal, penile, and mouth/throat cancer in males, which are potentially life-threatening.

Even though there is no treatment for HPV, you can be proactive and get your son vaccinated, protecting him (and by association, girls) as best you can. 

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (n.d.) What are the Risk Factors for Anal Cancer?

Boggs KL. Significance of Human Papillomavirus in Head and Neck Cancers. J Adv Pract Oncol. 2015 May-Jun;6(3):256-62.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (September 2013). Basic Information About HPV and Cancer. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines. 

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