Family Matters

Daughters Care What their Moms Think, Especially Regarding the HPV Vaccine

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Girls really do care what their moms think, even once they’re all grown up. That’s the message that a new study is conveying after researchers found that college-age women are more likely to report getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine if they’d discussed it with their mothers.

“We didn’t actually look at what they said, but what we do know is important to feel that the mother can talk to her daughter and the daughter can talk to her mother and that both parties feel the vaccine is safe and effective,” says Janice Krieger, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

It’s not necessarily an easy conversation. Chitchatting about the merits of the HPV vaccine inevitably involve discussion of sex — that’s how the virus is transmitted, after all — and that’s where the heart-to-hearts may get a little awkward. It’s important to persevere, says Krieger, because now that there’s a way to immunize against HPV, it’s important to do it. More than half of sexually active men and women in the U.S. will contract it at some point; left untreated, it can lead to cancer. (More on Time.comAre doctors screening for cervical cancer too often?)

Because some daughters may fear reproach or judgement from their mothers if they bring up the subject, it’s up to mothers to be proactive. “I could see why some college-age women wouldn’t want to bring it up because they’re afraid their moms will ask those questions,” says Krieger. “The strategy we need to promote is encouraging moms to say, I heard about this vaccine and I think this is a good idea, and that takes the pressure off the daughters.”

The research, published in the journal Human Communication Research, zeroed in on 182 mother-daughter pairs. The daughters — college students whose average age was 20 — filled out a questionnaire about the HPV vaccine and asked their mothers to complete a similar one. Most of the pairs — 137 — reported talking about the vaccine; 45 did not. (More on Time.comCDC confirms effectiveness of HPV vaccine in men)

What tipped the scales regarding a daughter’s decision to get vaccinated? A mom who shared that she thought the vaccine was a safe and effective way to prevent HPV.

Moral support isn’t the only way mom can help, however. As always, money talks — and the vaccine isn’t cheap. The three-shot series ranges from $360 to $600 and is probably not at the tip-top of a young woman’s shopping list. A recent study from the University of Maryland concluded that nearly 75% of young women don’t start the vaccine; of those who do, only one-third actually complete it. (More on Time.comHPV test better than pap smears for cervical screening)

“If your mother says I think this vaccine is a good idea and I’m willing to pay for it,” notes Krieger, “that might change things.”