HPV trouble for men, too: Vaccine may help

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Medical researchers have noted in men a sharp rise in a type of throat cancer increasingly linked to HPV, the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Though the virus is best known for causing cervical cancer, a new study by the National Cancer Institute found a 225 percent increase in the incidence of HPV-positive oropharynx cancers (those affecting the back of the tongue and tonsil area) in men from 1988 to 2004. Furthermore, the incidence continues to rise: such cancers increased from around 4,500 in 2004 to 6,700 in 2010, and are projected to increase to 8,500 in 2020, says Anil Chaturvedi, lead investigator of the study.

These numbers suggest that HPV vaccination for males ages 9 through 26 should be routinely recommended, as it has been for girls and young women since 2006. HPV itself is the most common sexually transmitted virus. Among both genders, the risk of contracting HPV is directly related to the number of lifetime sexual partners, as is the risk of HPV-associated oral cancer. The CDC reports that 25 percent of mouth and 35 percent of throat cancers are caused by HPV; men account for the majority of these cases, though it’s not clear why.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross believes “it’s important that more studies be done to further clarify and characterize the relationship between gender and HPV-positive throat cancers. Once those data are available, it is likely that an indication that males also be vaccinated against HPV will be recommended.” He speculates that a study on older males and HPV-prevention via vaccination would be a good place to start.