More than half of U.S. teens don't get vaccine that can prevent cancer

(KOMO file photo)

A lot of people don't know this, but there is a vaccine that can prevent certain types of cancer, those caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the U.S.

"HPV can cause cervical cancer for women, along with genital warts. It can cause penile cancer for men. It can cause throat cancer for both men and women. And it can lead to future infertility,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, a pediatrician at UW medicine.

The HPV vaccine only works when it’s administered before the first sexual encounter, but according to the CDC, only 40 percent of American teens completed the recommended doses.

"It's critical to get your son and daughter vaccinated before they consider having sex because that's how this vaccine works,” Dr. Ebel explained. “This nasty virus moves into your cells and stays there and that's why there's the ongoing cancer risk. So the critical time to get this vaccine is starting at 11 years old. And it's important to get vaccinated ahead of time, even for kids who wait to have sex until they get married, so that you have the opportunity to have a family when you're ready."

In many cases, school nurses are able to administer the HPV vaccine, Dr. Ebel said.

You can find out more about the Human Papillomavirus on the CDC website

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