While human papillomavirus vaccination rates are rising, experts hope better public education will allow them to reach the levels of other common vaccines.
HPV vaccines are given in three doses, preferably when a child is 11 or 12, because they are most effective before he or she is sexually active.
"There's no better way to protect than to be immunized prior to exposure," said Fairfax pediatrician Russell Libby.
While the vaccination lasts about 10 years, doctors are not sure if another round of vaccinations will be necessary down the line.
There are more than 14 million new HPV infections in the U.S.
each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the vast majority will do no harm. "It's often astounding to people how common HPV is," said CDC epidemiologist Eileen Dunne. "Most of those infections are transient. It's really the infections that persist that are important."
Not vaccinating against the ones that most commonly cause cancer, however, will likely bring up cancer rates and hurt those that can't receive the vaccine for medical reasons.
"It's not just the 10,000 women who will develop cervical cancer each year, it's the multitude of women that will develop abnormal pap smears and require interventions to stop the cancer from developing," Libby said. "There is a huge expense in terms of health care dollars as well as the human toll of having to go through procedures." - Matt Connolly