Homo On HPV & Gay Men
My vignette on HPV (and rock-star epidemiologist Dr. Laura Koutsky) focuses, like most of the recent press on the new vaccine, on women and girls. That’s because HPV infection is clearly linked with cervical cancer in women, and guys generally have an easier time of it.
But I know a lot of gay men are curious about the vaccine, too. HPV has been also been linked with (much rarer) anal and penile cancers in men. Gay and bisexual men, moreover, have a 17% higher rate of anal cancer than do heterosexuals. The rates are still very low, but they’re worrisome.
The new Merck vaccine is currently being tested on men and boys, for the same age range that it was confirmed safe and effective in women and girls (9-26). Eventually the company hopes to market the vaccine to the same target range of prepubescents (11 and 12-year-old boys). In men, it’s hoped that the vaccine would, as in women, prevent two common strains of HPV responsible for 80-90% of all cases of genital warts. In addition, vaccinated men would be less likely to pass the cervical cancer-related strains of the virus onto their female sex parters, and (hopefully) would develop anal and penile cancers at lower rates themselves. (A rival vaccine, currently being tested by GlaxoKlineSmith, only protects against the cervical-cancer strains and won’t be available to guys.)
So for people who are older than 26, the obvious question is, why isn’t the HPV vaccine recommended for us? Sadly, the answer seems to be, the older you get, the more likely you are to have already contracted one or more of the strains of HPV that the vaccine is meant to protect against. Getting kids early means they probably haven’t started having sex yet.
More questions? Here’s the CDC’s Q&A page. I can also try to tackle other stuff—or at least pass on the questions to the experts.