An alarming rate of teens in the United States haven't received HPV vaccination yet or don't know much about how it could help prevent cancer, according to a new study by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Annually, about 31,000 people in the country are diagnosed with cancer caused by an infection from the human papillomavirus, or more commonly referred to as HPV — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

Possible Effects Of HPV

Women who have HPV may get cervical cancer later on, which takes about 4,000 lives each year. Men who have it often get penile cancer. HPV also could potentially lead to some other cancers, such as that of the anus and mouth, plus it might produce genital warts.

The numbers become even more depressing when one learns that these can be preventable through HPV vaccination, but why are vaccination rates among U.S. teens tragically low? Merely 29 percent of 13-year-olds in the country have received the first round of the HPV vaccine, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield's numbers. Ideally, it's given three times over the course of six months — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 43 percent of U.S. teens are up to date on the vaccine.

"It's important for 12 and 13-year-olds to get the HPV vaccine to provide immunity so that when they may be exposed to HPV later in life, typically through sexual activity, they have protection," said Margaret Stager, a Metro Health Medical Center pediatrician, as NPR reports.

Perceptions About Sex

So what's up? Well, part of the low numbers has to do with the country's attitude toward sex, or rather, their backward perception about sex and the sheer shame and embarrassment surrounding it. In 2006, after the HPV vaccine was approved, many folks on the conservative side often warned that children who receive the vaccine become sexually promiscuous.

That claim is debatable, of course, especially with a recently published study suggesting that today's teens are having less sexual intercourse than the previous generation.

Is It Too Late To Get HPV Vaccines?

Sure, HPV vaccinations are on the rise, but some parents are still wary of giving their kids the vaccines, arguing that doing so isn't necessary because their children won't have sex anytime soon. The problem is HPV vaccines are more effective when given at an early age — especially before any sexual exposure.

For those in their early 20s who still haven't received the vaccine, the question is: is it too late?

Well, not quite. At that age, getting a vaccine now would be less effective — but it's still worth a shot, the CDC says.

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