The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine caused quite a stir when states made the vaccination a mandatory requirement for all girls aged 11 and 12. Texas has since repealed this requirement and Virginia is currently in the repeal process. The mandatory requirement set off a great debate over whether the vaccination should be state imposed or a parent’s right to choose. Interestingly enough, the debate was never about whether HPV vaccines would save lives.
The fact is that over 20 million American have an active HPV infection. This virus is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women with over 11,000 cases reported each year. Of those cases, approximately 4,000 women do not survive. Furthermore, it causes over 7,500 cases of cancer in men. The virus is known to cause both anal and penile cancer as well as genital warts in both men and women.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the vaccine Gardasil to prevent genital warts in males. While there is usually no significant health risks linked to genital warts, the psychological effects can be devastating. The unsightly warts appear on or around the genitals and tend to grow in clusters, causing embarrassment during sexual encounters. The only way to get rid of the warts is to have them medically removed. Early findings indicate that the vaccine may diminish not only the risk of genital warts, but also diminish cancer in young men by as much as 90% in the case of anal cancer and as much as 80% in case of penile cancer.
Gardasil is approved for use in both females and males age 9 to 26 and has the same side effects commonly associated with other vaccines; headache, fever and discomfort at the injection site. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that the vaccination be given in three doses. The second dose should be received one to two months after the first and the third dose should be received six months later. No serious side effects have been reported, however, if you are severely allergic to yeast you may want to consult your physician before receiving the vaccination.
The reason the CDC recommends the vaccination at such an early age because prevention is exponentially more successful in people who have not yet been exposed to the virus. HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. The vaccine can also be effective for people who are already sexually active as long as they have not been exposed to the virus.
Besides the obvious benefits of potentially reducing the risk of some cancers in men and preventing genital warts, there is a secondary benefit. The logic is that by vaccinating men, you can prevent them from infecting woman, resulting in a decrease in the number of cervical cancer cases. Although the focus of the vaccine has been to prevent cervical cancer in women, young men can definitely benefit from getting the vaccine.