Being a parent means looking out for your kids. When they were small it meant making sure they wore a helmet, crossed the street carefully and wore sunscreen. As they get older, the health challenges they face change. As they become adolescents, you can’t always be with them, so you warn against things like the dangers of alcohol and drugs and sharing too much on social media. But what about human papillomavirus (HPV) – a virus that can cause certain cancers and diseases? Learning about health risks your children may be exposed to as adolescents or young adults that can affect them later in life is the first step toward helping to protect them.
You may have heard about HPV, but you may not be aware of the impact it may have. As your children become adolescents it’s more important than ever to be their health advocate and learn about potential future health concerns, including HPV.
Here are five HPV facts for parents:
1. HPV is more common than you may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and there are approximately 14 million new HPV infections in the United States each year. Half of these infections occur in people ages 15-24. For most, HPV clears on its own. But for others who don't clear certain types, HPV can cause significant consequences in both males and females.
2. When HPV does not clear, it can cause certain pre-cancers, cancers and other diseases. These can develop very slowly and may not even be diagnosed until years later. There's no way to predict who will or won't clear the virus.
3. You may have only heard of HPV as a cause of cervical cancer in women, but there are other HPV-related diseases that can affect males, as well as females. Certain types of HPV cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar pre-cancers and cancers in females and other HPV types cause genital warts and anal cancer in males and females.
4. HPV often has no visible signs or symptoms, so many people are not even aware that they have it. This means people can pass on HPV without knowing it. It may take only one sexual encounter to be infected with HPV. HPV can be transmitted through experimentation that involves genital contact of any kind — intercourse is not necessary but is the most common.
5. You may think it’s too soon to worry about how HPV could affect your son or daughter, but the best time to get the facts about HPV is before they may be exposed.
As a parent you never stop looking out for your kids, and the more we learn about health risks for our children, the more we can do to help protect them as they grow up. Take action now, while you are still managing your adolescent’s health care. Speak with your child’s doctor for more information and be sure to ask about ways to help prevent HPV-related cancers and diseases, including vaccination.