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A young man with a bandaid on his arm from a recent vaccine

I'm a guy, why do I need the HPV vaccine?

I’m a 15 year old guy and my doctor gave me a brochure about HPV vaccines and said she thinks it’s a good idea. My questions are: 1) Is the vaccine safe? and 2) Why do guys need a vaccine to protect them against a disease (cervical cancer) that affects females?

Expert answer

I applaud you for being proactive and asking questions! I also am happy your family physician initiated the important conversation about the HPV vaccine.

First things first: HPV vaccines are indeed safe, having been tested with thousands of boys, girls, young men and women around the world. The vaccines have been found to be well tolerated, safe and effective in both sexes.

Most common side effects include mild skin irritation and redness at the site of the injection. There have been reports of some patients fainting after receiving the vaccines, but this is actually common with vaccines and adolescents in general, and can be avoided by simply sitting or laying down for 15 minutes or so after being vaccinated.

Remember that HPV is most definitely not a “female” infection only. As is the case with females, most males will contract HPV in their lifetimes. HPV can cause genital warts, penile, anal, head and neck cancers in men.

Recent studies show that HPV-related head and neck cancers are more common in males than females. The HPV vaccine can protect against HPV-related oropharyngeal and other head and neck cancers, as well as anal cancer. As men and women pass the virus among sexual partners, it makes public health sense to vaccinate men in order to reduce the viral load in the society.

–Shobha Krishnan, MD