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Health experts would really like to vaccinate more young people against the virus called HPV, which can cause certain cancers. The vaccine was first introduced many years ago, but a new analysis from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association finds only about one-third of adolescents get vaccinated by their teen years. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: In the U.S., about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 women die from it. An HPV vaccine can prevent most of these cervical cancers. It can also prevent cancer of the penis in men. Pediatricians recommend getting it early in adolescence, says Margaret Stager of MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. She's a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
MARGARET STAGER: It's important for 12- and 13-year-olds to get the HPV vaccine to provide immunity so that when they may be exposed to HPV later in life, typically through sexual activity, they have protection.
AUBREY: Stager says vaccination rates are rising, but she still hears pushback from parents, comments like this.
STAGER: Why are we giving a vaccine to my little girl? She's only 11, and she's not going to be having sex, so why are we doing this now?
AUBREY: Stager says there are two reasons. There's a more effective immune response when the vaccine is given earlier in adolescence. Also...
STAGER: It works best if given before any sexual exposure, and that includes oral sex, as well, and touching.
AUBREY: Now, fewer boys than girls get vaccinated, and that may be because the recommendation to give boys the vaccine came years after it was first recommended for girls. But Stager says what's become clear is that men are getting HPV-related cancers.
STAGER: We're seeing a new trend in adult men with oral cancers related to HPV. And this is alarming because this is the group that did not have the opportunity to get the HPV vaccine.
AUBREY: She says the connection between HPV and oral cancer in men is clear.
STAGER: It's related to oral sex. And it's a trend that we're seeing that's increasing in great numbers.
AUBREY: In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented a significant increase in the cases of HPV-related oral cancers in men in recent years. But Stager says it may not be too late to get vaccinated. According to CDC recommendations, young men and women who missed the vaccine as teenagers can get it through their early 20s. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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