June 13-19, 2011 is Men’s Health Week a month meant to heighten the awareness of preventable health illnesses and injuries and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. This month reminds us to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury. One preventable illness rarely talked about for boys and men is HPV.
The discussion around HPV (human papillomavirus) generally centers on women and cervical cancer. But the truth is this disease also affects men. And men should consider getting vaccinated for HPV, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can affect men and women causing genital warts and cancer (including penile cancer, anal cancer, and head and neck cancers for men). HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between partners—even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. And thus can easily pass it on to their partners or get HPV from their partners resulting in warts or cancer which could be prevented.
Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. Another 6 million people become newly infected each year the CDC reports. HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. About 1% of sexually active adults in the U.S. have genital warts, caused by HPV, at any one time. HPV causes also cancers including penile cancer, anal cancer, and head and neck cancers.
The male foreskin may be a reservoir for HPV suggesting that boys consider vaccination to prevent later transfer through sexual contact, according to researchers from Innsbruck Medical University in Austria. A study presented last month, at the American Urological Association’s Annual Meeting, examined foreskins of 133 males – between seven months and 82 years old extracting DNA from 40 tissue sections to assess the prevalence of HPV. Researchers found low-risk HPV genotypes in 18.8% of the examined foreskins and high-risk HPV in 9.77%.
So because HPV can cause cancer and because HPV can be transferred to sexual partners, men should consider being vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first HPV vaccine, Garadsil, in the summer of 2006 for use in women. In 2009, the FDA approved Gardasil to prevent genital warts in males ages 9 to 26. Cervarix is another HPV vaccine that may be effective but is not approved by the FDA for men. While these drugs have been controversial because of the political moves of many governments considering or implementing mandatory vaccinations (I will withhold my comments on this), the effectiveness of vaccination in preventing the spread of HPV and preventing cancer in men is proven.
See this Fact Sheet by the CDC – HPV and Men
For a fair and balanced view of the stats see this Information is Beautiful post with infographics.