The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data showing that percentage of adolescents reported getting the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination increased from 60.4 percent to 65.5 percent from 2016 to 2017. That's good news: almost half of adolescents in the U.S. are protected. However, that also means that roughly half of U.S. adolescents remain vulnerable.

You would be hard pressed to find a parent who doesn't want to protect their child from cancer.  Yet each year, some parents are missing an opportunity to protect their children from the most common sexually transmitted infection and a leading cause of cancers that continue to rise each year, according to a report from the CDC.

Scientists have linked HPV to numerous cancers, including mouth, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, throat, anus, penile and rectum. Thanks to a strong push from the public health and medical community to screen women for cervical cancer and vaccinate them, cases of cervical cancer are decreasing. Head and neck cancer in males, however, is increasing so rapidly that it has replaced cervical cancer as the most common HPV-related cancer. Unfortunately, rates of HPV vaccination in males lag behind those in females. Vaccinating boys now could stop this worrisome trend dead in its tracks.

All girls and boys who are 11 or 12 years old should get the HPV vaccine. Children as young as age 9 can be vaccinated, and teen boys and girls who did not get vaccinated when they were younger should get it now. It is important to get the vaccine before a teen becomes sexually active, before they have a chance to come in contact with the virus.

HPV is extremely common; nearly 80 million people—about one in four adults—are currently infected in the United States. It is so common that the CDC states that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives. Most people will not show symptoms, unlike other viruses like the chicken pox or the flu, making it hard to know someone is infected and easy to pass it on to someone else.  An adult who develops an HPV-related cancer most likely was infected decades earlier.  This is why vaccination at a young age is so important.

Parents need to know that they have an important weapon in their back pocket to prevent their children from ever getting some cancers. Years of data prove that the vaccine is safe and effective.  Ask your health care provider if it is the right time for your child to be vaccinated against HPV.

Amy Leader, PhD, is a researcher at the NCI-designated Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health and an associate professor in the division of population science, department of medical oncology at Thomas Jefferson University. David Cognetti, M.D., is co-director of the Jefferson Center for Head and Neck Surgery and member of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health.