For many years, human papillomavirus (HPV) has been thought of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is largely an issue for women. That’s likely due to the push for girls to receive the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, which the STD can cause.

However, the HPV vaccine can protect boys and men too.

“HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, it’s so common that nearly all sexually active women and men contract it at some point,” said Gary Lawrence, M.D., pediatrician at Geisinger–Kistler Clinic in Wilkes-Barre.

Most of the time, the body naturally fights off HPV before it can cause any health issues. However, an HPV infection that doesn’t go away can lead to cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, each year, more than 9,000 males are affected by cancers caused by HPV.

“HPV is most well-known for causing cervical cancer, but it can cause cancers of the mouth, throat, anus and penis in males,” DOCTOR said. There are many different types of HPV – some cause the aforementioned cancers, but some types of HPV can cause genital warts.

“HPV is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus – it can be passed even when an infected person doesn’t have any signs or symptoms,” Dr. Lawrence said. “Any sexually active person can get HPV –in some cases, symptoms don’t develop until years after getting infected.”

All of that is why the HPV vaccine is so important for both men and women.

“Many of the health issues and cancers caused by an HPV infection could be prevented by the HPV vaccine,” Dr. Lawrence said. “HPV vaccination of boys is also likely to benefit girls by reducing the spread of HPV infection.”

The HPV vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls at age 11 or 12.

“Some parents think this is such a young age to start worrying about their children becoming sexually active and STDs, but this is the recommended age to receive the vaccine because it gives their body time to develop an immune response before they can ever be exposed to the virus,” Dr. Lawrence explained.

The HPV vaccine has shown to produce a more robust immune response during the preteen years. Additionally, older teens tend to be less likely to get heath checkups than preteens.

“The HPV vaccine is given in three shots – the second is given one to two months after the first shot. The third shot is given six months after the first one,” Dr. Lawrence said.

It’s recommended that preteens receive the full HPV vaccine in order for the vaccine to effectively protect them in the future.

For teens and young adults who either didn’t get the vaccine, or didn’t finish full HPV vaccine series, there may still be time to get the vaccination. Young women can get the vaccine until they’re 26 years old and young men until 21 years old.