MICHELE NORRIS, HOST:

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say vaccinations against a virus called HPV should be more than just an option for preteen boys. The panel says doctors should be routinely telling parents of 11- and 12-year- old boys they need the vaccine against HPV. The panel says it will lower boys' risks of some cancers later in life.

Here's NPR's Richard Knox.

RICHARD KNOX, BYLINE: For five years now, the CDC has urged parents to get their 11- and 12-year-old daughters vaccinated against HPV, and that female teens and adults up to age 26 should get it, too. That's been controversial, partly because the CDC is urging protection against a sexually transmitted virus well before most girls are sexually active.

Now, CDC advisers say all 11- and 12-year-old boys should get the HPV vaccine, and older boys and young men up to 21 should also get it if they missed it earlier. The reason: The human papillomavirus is strongly associated with five different kinds of cancer.

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT: Frankly, the idea of having a vaccine that can prevent cancer is a pretty compelling argument.

KNOX: That's Dr. Anne Schuchat, head of the CDC's immunization division. She says 20 million Americans are infected with HPV, but the vaccination rate among girls has been disappointing.

SCHUCHAT: HPV's vaccine is not being highly taken up by teenaged girls. The vaccination of males offers an opportunity to decrease disease in both males and females.

KNOX: HPV is strongly associated with cervical and other reproductive cancers in women; in men, cancer of the penis. In both sexes, it can cause genital warts, anal cancer, and cancers of the mouth and throat. The idea is to vaccinate against HPV before boys and girls begin having sex because the vaccine doesn't do any good once somebody's already infected.

Dr. Rodney Willoughby, a Milwaukee pediatrician, says it's a great idea.

DR. RODNEY WILLOUGHBY: There's a lot of common sense to saying that if you want to interrupt it, you need to address it in boys as well as girls.

KNOX: The CDC says vaccinating boys will save money in the end, even though it costs more than $400 for a course of three shots. Schuchat says the CDC hopes that by making this an equal-opportunity vaccine, some of the controversy will die down.

SCHUCHAT: We are interested in seeing whether a universal recommendation makes it easier for providers to remember the vaccine and offer it routinely, or perhaps even makes it more acceptable to parents because they're thinking about it for both their sons and their daughters.

KNOX: But, she quickly adds, we don't know that yet. Richard Knox, NPR News.

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