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Half of Men May Have HPV

By on March 2, 2011

Public health researchers debate vaccinating boys against the human papillomavirus (HPV) given that half of men in the United  States may be infected with HPV, the human wart virus that causes cancer if left untreated.

U.S. vaccine advisers have been weighing whether boys and young men should be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, as they already recommend for girls and young women, but some worry the vaccine is too costly to justify its use. HPV infection is best known as the primary cause of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women worldwide. But various strains of HPV also cause anal, penile, head and neck cancers. Vaccinating men and boys would prevent some of these cancers.

Anna Giuliano of the H Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, and colleagues studied infection rates among more than 1,100 men aged 18 to 70 in the United States, Brazil and Mexico to get a snapshot of the natural progression of HPV infection in men.

“We found that there is a high proportion of men who have genital HPV infections. At enrollment, it was 50 percent,” said Giuliano, whose study appears online in in the journal Lancet.

The team also found that the rate at which men acquire new HPV infections is very similar to women.

And they found that about 6 percent of men per year will get a new HPV 16 infection, the strain that is known for causing cervical cancer in women and other cancers in men. Vaccines made by Merck & Co and GlaxoSmithKline both offer protection against this strain of HPV. “What is different is men seem to have high prevalence of genital HPV infections throughout their lifespans.”

In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Merck’s Gardasil HPV vaccine for prevention of anal cancers in both men and women, based on studies showing Gardasil was effective in men who have sex with men, a group that has a higher incidence of anal cancer. Anal cancer is one of the less common types of cancer, with an estimated 5,300 new U.S. cases diagnosed each year, but the incidence is increasing.

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