There's a HPV vaccine gender gap in the United States

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Doctors say we have the tools to eradicate the cancer caused by HPV, but we’re not even close.

A gender gap could be putting boys at risk.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that causes more than 90 percent of cervical cancers, and some vulva, anal, penile, and throat cancers.

And the vaccine is “most effective before sexual exposure,” said Amanda Bruegl, a doctor at OHSU.

She has to explain that to a lot of parents because some are hesitant.

"There's also a stigma around that, 'Oh I got this vaccine for sexual health' and whatnot, and there's a lot of sort of disease with that conversation with parents," Bruegl said.

Australia's on track to wipe out cervical cancer in another 20 years. A national program provides teens with free shots, resulting in about 82 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys being vaccinated.

"The study really highlights the power we have at our fingertips to eradicate a cancer," said Bruegl.

In America, the most recent stats show around 65 percent of girls had started the vaccine course, while only 56 percent of boys had.

About that gender gap: when the vaccine rolled out in 2006, it was only approved for girls at first. The awareness for boys is clearly still catching up.

Recent studies show nine times out of 10, girls' families are told about the HPV vaccine in the U.S., but for boys, 1 in 5 families are not informed.

"The rate of HPV-related oral pharyngeal cancers are rising, particularly among men, and so that is providing some impetus for both providers and parents to vaccinate both their male and female children," Bruegl said.

Doctors say a national public health push to vaccinate teens -- like what Australia's doing -- could be a game-changer.

"This is an opportunity to prevent cancer in the lives of their children," said Bruegl. "I want them to know it is safe, it's been well-studied, and it's effective."

In the past week, the FDA approved the vaccine for men and women up to 45 years old. But doctors say the body responds best to it when it's never been exposed to sexual activity.

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