What Parents Should Know About the HPV Vaccine for Boys

In males, it protects against genital warts and anal cancer

HPV Vaccinations. Credit: Joe Raedle / Staff Getty Images

With the FDA approval of the use of the HPV vaccine Gardasil in males, many parents of boys want to know more about the vaccine, why it is necessary, and what the potential risks of Gardasil may be.

Why Is It Important to Give Boys the HPV Vaccine?

Gardasil helps protect against nine particular strains of HPV: types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. These are the HPV types that cause the most diseases and cancers.

Here are some specific medical conditions that the HPV vaccine can help protect against. 

  • Genital warts: The FDA has approved the use of Gardasil in boys to help prevent genital warts. During clinical trials, Gardasil was 89% effective at preventing genital warts among study participants. 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; they do not cause cancer or even result from the same strain of HPV that can cause cancer. But they can be very 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.
  • Anal cancer: An HPV infection can sometimes lead to anal cancer in males, and the HPV vaccine helps protect against the development of that particular disease. 
  • 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 (the virus is spread through skin touching, not through sexual fluids), 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 vaccine is administered during the preteen years, the HPV vaccine produces a more robust immune response.

    Is the HPV Vaccine Safe?

    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 or discomfort at the injection site, fever, and headaches after being given the shot. No serious side effects were reported.

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


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Common Questions About HPV and the HPV Vaccine. Accessed 27 March 2016.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen. Accessed 27 March 2016.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines 2010. Accessed 27 March 2016.

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