Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

Ask the Doc: Should My Child Get the HPV Vaccine?

Image of Ashley Warren, a volunteer military spouse, poses with her two kids in attendance during the annual UTNG-Kids summer camp at Camp Williams, Utah, June 28, 2022. Utah National Guard Youth Programs hosts this summer camp each year, inviting kids within specific age groups to come experience team building, crafts, and learning in a safe and fun environment. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Hack) . In this “Ask the Doc” article, learn about how HPV vaccination is the best way to prevent infection, and HPV vaccines in the U.S are highly effective at preventing infection from nine of the most serious types of HPV viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all children get the HPV vaccine at a well-child pre-teen visit between ages 9 and 12. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Hack)

Dear Doc: I’ve heard about HPV—I know it’s a sexually transmitted disease, and can cause some health problems, but not much more. I have a 12-year-old daughter, and her pediatrician wants to give her the HPV vaccine. This makes me really uncomfortable. What is HPV? How important is it to get a vaccination? Is it safe for my child?

-Capt. Concerned

Dear Capt. Concerned,

You’re not alone! While many people have heard of human papillomavirus, or HPV, a recent study from the American Association for Cancer Research found U.S. adults are less aware of the link between HPV and certain cancers.

We reached out to an expert to answer your questions: Dr. Margaret Ryan is the medical director of the Defense Health Agency’s Immunization Health Division in the Pacific Region. She is a vaccine expert with a background in preventive medicine and infectious disease.

Dr. Ryan said,

Thanks for asking these great questions. I understand your concern, but please know that HPV vaccines are safe and effective. I confidently recommend HPV vaccination for my patients, and for my own children. HPV vaccination prevents very serious health problems, including certain cancers. When people become fully vaccinated before exposure to HPV, they may maintain protection against these specific health threats for the rest of their lives.

What is HPV?

HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses that can cause lesions on the skin or mucus membranes, the lining of the mouth or genital areas. The virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and spreads from person-to-person by direct skin contact or intimate contact with mucus membranes.

Some types of HPV viruses cause wart-like lesions on the skin or mucus membranes. Some of these HPV lesions may go away without treatment, while others may require treatment, such as “freezing” with liquid nitrogen. Some HPV lesions are unnoticeable, and some HPV lesions may appear and resolve multiple times in the infected person’s lifetime.

There are 14 types of HPV considered “high-risk” because the lesions they cause can lead to cancer. In fact, nearly all cervical cancers are associated with previous HPV infection. HPV-related cancers may occur in the mouth or throat, on the genital area, in the anus, in the vagina, or on the Click to closeCervixThe cervix is the lower, narrow end of the Click to closeuterusAlso known as the womb, the uterus is the female reproductive organ where a baby grows. uterus (womb).  The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).cervix. HPV-related cancers may also appear years after a person was first infected.

HPV is a Common Infection

It’s estimated that more than 90% of people who are sexually active, and not protected from HPV, will become infected with at least one type of HPV in their lifetime. Most infections will not cause serious health problems. However, even with growing understanding of HPV infections and prevention measures, there are many new cases of HPV-related cancer each year. In the U.S., more than 35,000 new cases of HPV-related cancer are diagnosed each year. In the world, it is estimated that at least 500,000 women and 60,000 men will be newly diagnosed with HPV-related cancer this year.

Preventing HPV with Vaccination

Avoiding skin contact, or intimate contact, with HPV lesions can lower the risk of transmitting HPV infection. Using condoms can also lower transmission. However, many HPV infections cause no noticeable lesions on the skin or mucus membranes, so these methods are often not enough to stop transmission.

HPV vaccination is the best way to prevent infection. HPV vaccines in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing infection from nine of the most serious types of HPV viruses. After a person gets the full vaccine series, they will generally have lifetime protection.

HPV vaccines are ideally given before a person has exposure to HPV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all children get the HPV vaccine at a well-child pre-teen visit between ages 9 and 12.

Unvaccinated people diagnosed with HPV lesions, or even HPV-related cancer, may still benefit from vaccination. The vaccine will not cure lesions or cancer, but it may prevent infection from other high-risk types of HPV viruses, and therefore additional health problems. The vaccine is approved and available for adults up to age 45 years old.

Capt. Concerned, I hope this information was helpful. For more about HPV and the vaccine, please view the resources below.

You also may be interested in...

May 26, 2021

Ask the Doc: Fitness Freaking Out

Integrating healthy snacks like fruit into kid’s diets will teach them healthy eating habits. September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sabrina Fine)

Dear Doc: It seems like every time I go to the commissary, my daughter, 6, and son, 7, tend to gravitate toward the sugary cereals and frozen pizzas, and always want candy bars and sodas at the checkout. As far as I know, and as has been proven by their regularly scheduled check-ups, they are both in great health. The mother in me wants to give them ...

May 10, 2021

Ask the Doc: COVID Courageous

Spc. Andrew Buchtan, 1-4 Infantry Regiment medic, vaccinates Command Sgt. Maj. Deondre Long, Battalion Command Sergeant Major of 1-4 Infantry Regiment. Long said “I got the vaccination shot today because I did not want my leadership style to change. I am an engaged leader. The shot will enable me to develop a better relationship with my soldiers. It will help better interact with them without a standoffish leadership.” (US Army photo by Sgt. Julian Padua).

Dear Doc: I was afraid about getting my COVID vaccine at first and even entertained the thought of not getting it at all, but now that most of my friends and coworkers have gotten their first dose and some have even gotten their second, I think I'm ready. It seems pretty safe. That being said, now I need to know what I'm supposed to do to get it done. ...

May 6, 2021

Ask the Doc Seeking: Advice on Advice

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Janie Frey, left, from the Family Care Ward, and Teressa Harris, right, both registered nurses at Evans Army Community Hospital, from the Intensive Care Unit, answer phone calls Aug. 5 from the COVID-19 patient advice line.

Dear Doc: I've heard about something called the Nurse Advice Line, but don't know anything else about it. During the height of COVID-19, there were a few times I probably should have talked to someone about things like headaches, body pain, and allergies, but I didn't know if it required a trip to my military medical treatment facility during a ...

Apr 15, 2021

Ask the Doc: My Nose Knows

Many people suffer from season allergies.

Dear Doc: I suffer from horrible allergies every year and I've just changed duty stations to an area that I've been told is especially bad for them in the spring. I've tried over-the-counter meds for years and nothing seems to work. With things starting to bloom, I'm almost afraid to go outside. How can I keep my allergies in check and make sure I can ...

Mar 17, 2021

Ask the Doc: Hit Head Hiking

U.S. Marines with The Basic School, Headquarter and Service Battalion, hike Old Rag Mountain at the Shenandoah National Park, Madison County, Va., Nov. 7, 2018. The motivational hike was held in honor of the Marine Corps Birthday as well as Veterans’ Day. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Quinn Hurt)

Dear Doc: I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather last weekend and went out hiking with a few friends. As we were headed up a pretty steep incline, I fell and hit my head on a rock. It hurt pretty badly at the time, but being the “warrior” that I am, I brushed it off and we finished the hike. I haven’t been to a doctor yet, but now I'm ...

Feb 15, 2021

Ask the Doc: Trying to Be Heart Smart

Snow covers the trees around J. Edward Roush Lake, Huntington, Ind.

Dear Doc: I can’t speak for everyone, but I know where I live, we’ve still got a month or so of extreme cold weather left. Following the advice from your last column, I’m pushing through with my outdoor workouts. While I am staying warm, I’ve noticed that I get tired quicker than I would when it’s warm outside. I’ve also heard that your heart must ...

Jan 20, 2021

Ask the Doc: Working out in a Winter Wonderland

A Soldier assigned to 10th Combat Aviation Brigade spends part of his lunch break getting a quick workout on the ice. So far, 2021 has seen the type of North Country winter weather that is making the Fort Drum ice rink a hot spot for outdoor recreation. Since the rink opened on Jan. 25, it has seen more activity in the first 10 days than all of last season with nearly 800 skaters in attendance. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Dear Doc: Although my gym has opened back up, I’m still a little hesitant to return because of the recent spikes in COVID cases in my area. I’ve been getting creative with my home workouts, and I’d really like to be outside more, but it’s so cold! I want to bundle up, but I don’t want to overdo it and get overheated. Do you have any recommendations ...

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: September 20, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery