The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection that can be easily passed on through skin-to-skin contact, including during sex. The HPV strain consists of four strains which can cause cancer in both females and males, for example, cervical cancer in females and agential cancer, head and neck cancers in both genders.
The introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2006, initially only for girls from the age of 13 was administered with the aim to protect against infections linked to 90% of cervical cancers and 5% of cancers worldwide. Research studies suggested, that it would prevent the formation of pre-cancerous lesions caused by HPV. In addition, the vaccine has been shown to be over 99% effective at preventing cancers caused by HPV, especially subtypes 16 and 18 which are accountable for 75% of cervical cancers in Europe.
Despite all of this, HPV continues to impact both boys and men. In the UK each year, HPV causes around 1400 head and neck cancers, 350 penile cancers and approximately 400 anal cancers. To combat this effectively, the UK government has announced a nationwide programme, which will be rolled out in September 2019 for men aged 45 years and younger to be vaccinated given the aim of reducing preventable deaths in patients. Patients that fall in the high-risk group, are men who have sex with men and such risks remain the same for younger men and hence the programme has been offered for all secondary school-aged boys.
The awareness of this virus in men, is the result of change in the epidemiology of disease. However, over the last decade the number of mouth and throat cancers has increased dramatically and led to a call for action. As a result, the government has announced from the 1st of September the HPV vaccine will be available for the following; all adolescents in school year 8 (12 and 13 years) and MSM up to and including 45 years of age, those attending sexual health or HIV clinics.
As previous immunisation programmes carried out in girls have proven to be effective, with significant fall in HPV cases and pre-cancerous growths, likewise this should be applied to men who fall into this category and will help to prevent cancers in both men and women in years to come.
- Terrance Higgins Trust, https://www.tht.org.uk/our-work/our-campaigns/hpv-vaccine
- World Health Organization (2019). Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Key facts. Available at https://www.who.int/immunization/diseases/hpv/en/
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination for Men who have sex with Men (MSM). Available at;https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/678987/HPV_msm_year1_evaluation_report.pdf
- Chaturvedi et al. (2019). Prevalence of Oral HPV Infection in Unvaccinated Men and Women in the United States, 2009-2016. JAMA, 322(10), 977-979.