Family First: Understanding HPV vaccines for your teen

Some doctors say it is as common as catching a cold.{}

In the US, more than 14 million people are infected with the HPV virus every year and doctors say it's becoming an epidemic.

HPV is a virus that can lead to several forms of cancer for both boys and girls, but if your child is vaccinated, getting cancer from HPV is something they'll never have to worry about.

Heather Burcham was just 31-years-old and a few months away from dying when she gave this interview in 2007.{}

"If I could help one child, take this cancer away from one child, it would mean the world to me," said Heather.

Heather died from cervical cancer, a cancer that began after she was exposed to the HPV virus as a young adult.{} When Heather was a preteen, there were no vaccinations to protect against HPV, but before she died she wanted to make sure parents of both boys and girls knew one was now available.{}

"If I could get them to understand, then I feel like I have done my job as a human on this earth," she said.

Dr. Dennis Kuo, a pediatrician at Arkansas Children's Hospital, spends much of his time making parents aware of the HPV vaccine.{} He has already vaccinated his own pre-teen daughter and strongly encourages parents of his patients to do the same.

"By the time a young woman or young man is about 18 to 25, almost half of them will have contracted an infection with HPV," said Dr. Kuo. "People will get exposed to HPV.{} The lifetime chance that a person is going to be exposed to HPV is about 80 percent."

With numbers that high, doctors recommend kids be vaccinated before they become sexually active which is why the 11-and 12-year old check-up is ideal.

Anthony Bostian is turning 12 this week. His mother says she considers the HPV vaccination as routine. It's just another way she can protect her son's health.

"We have a long history of cancer in our family and I just want to make sure he doesn't get cancer," said Mary Bostian.

As for side effects and safety, Dr. Kuo said more than 50 million doses have been administered in the US with minimal side effects.{} He said the most common problem is light-headedness following the injection.{}

"The thing about HPV causing cancer is that it may be 20 or 30 years from now," said Dr. Kuo. "But that exposure to HPV happens in many cases, in the late teenage years to throughout the 20's and because of that our vaccine needs to be given before our teenagers are at risk which is in their early teens."

The HPV vaccination is endorsed by both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics.{} It is given in three different injections over the course of six months.{}

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