Since 2005, the CDC has been recommending that Gardasil, the vaccine designed to prevent many of the most serious strains of the humanpapiloma virus (HPV), be given to girls and young women.
There are over 90 different strains of HPV. A lot of these don't cause any harm and go away on their own. But some types can be really serious. For example, one strain is responsible for genital warts. Though these can be unpleasant, and easily passed to a sex partner, they are not life threatening. However, some types of HPV can lead to anal cancer, cervical cancer, or throat cancer, which can be deadly if left untreated.
Preventing cervical cancer was the original goal of the vaccine and because men don't have a cervix, (which is the top of the vagina and the bottom of the uterus) the need to vaccinate them against HPV wasn't seen as crucial. But as time went on, it became apparent that HPV can lead to a cancer risk in men as well.
In rare cases men can be affected by penile cancer, but the main worry for men and boys is anal cancer. This is not a common cancer, and while it can affect both men and women, it is found in greater numbers among men who have sex with men.
- Gay and bisexual men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men.
- Men with weak immune systems, including those who have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are more likely than other men to develop anal cancer. Men with HIV are also more likely to get severe cases of genital warts that are hard to treat.
Condoms are a really good way for guys who have sex with guys to help reduce their risk of contracting HPV during anal sex, or oral sex. But condoms can't offer 100% protection from HPV. That's because the HPV virus lives on skin, and not all the skin it lives on will always be covered by a condom.
Even though the numbers of those affected by anal cancer are relatively low, it would be great if no one had to worry about this disease, which is why many people are excited that boys are now eligible for Gardasil or another brand of the HPV called, Cervarix.
Still not everyone is comfortable with the idea of the HPV vaccine. As the Guide to Cancer explains,
"Concerned parents worry over the safety of the vaccine, although Gardasil has been proven safe in several clinical trials. The sexual nature of the vaccine continues to be an issue with some parents and lawmakers."
Of course, if you are sexually active and haven't had the vaccine, there are still many ways to stay safe. Here are a few:
- Continue to practice safe sex by using condoms.
- Get tested regularly for STDs.
- See your doctor if you have any health concerns.
- Communicate with your sex partners and be honest about whether you are monogamous or not.
Keep in mind that even if you and your partners are vaccinated against HPV, it is still wise to practice safer sex. This is both because it is important to protect yourself from other infections and also because while the HPV vaccine offers good protection from HPV, it doesn't offer 100% protection. HPV vaccines prevent infection with the HPV types that cause 70% of cervical cancer. So there is still a slim chance of getting HPV even after being inoculated.