The HPV Vaccine in Men

One of the big debates about using the HPV vaccine in men has had to do with the fact that it's mostly been promoted as an anti-cancer vaccine. Although HPV related cancers - such as rectal, throat and, penile cancers - do affect men, they are not generally considered to be as big an issue as cervical cancer is in women. Furthermore, many of these cancers are more common in men who have sex with men, a category which many parents - rightly or wrongly - do not think contains their sons. Thus, the benefits of the vaccine for young men have largely been seen as indirect - protecting their partners - even though they should see some direct benefits as well.
These direct benefits were recently confirmed by the publication of the results of a large Phase III vaccine trial of Gardasil in 16-26 year old men. The study, which appeared in the February 3 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that Gardasil was quite effective in reducing genital warts in men who had not been previously exposed to the covered types of HPV. This adds to the evidence which, only last month, led to the FDA approval of the vaccine for preventing anal cancer in both men and women.
Right now, universal vaccination of young men is unlikely to be recommended for a variety of reasons - including the fact that the vaccine is expensive and vaccination simply may not be a cost effective solution to HPV related health problems. Still, there is a growing amount of evidence that HPV vaccination may be, at least, worth talking about with your teenage sons. If nothing else, doing so may be a good way to initiate important discussions of safe sex.

By Elizabeth Boskey, Ph.D.

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