A new study from Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, NC, adds to a growing body of medical evidence that human papilloma virus (HPV) infection among young people is common, is easily passed to others, is potentially very bad, and is preventable with a safe and effective vaccine.
The study, published last month in JAMA Oncology, estimates that nearly half of American men (45.2%) ages 18-59 have genital infections due to HPV. Moreover, half of this group of infected men (or 25.1% of men in the U.S.) are infected with one of the high-risk strains associated with causing cancer. Infection rates in vaccine-eligible men were lower, indicating that immunizing young men with the older 4-valent (HPV-4) or newer 9-valent (HPV-9) vaccines are effective in preventing HPV infection and associated cancers. It’s especially important to note that the vaccine rate in the 1,868 men who entered the study was very low — 10.7%. The study participants provided penile swabs for HPV DNA testing.
Human papilloma virus is a sexually transmitted infection; the types of malignancies it causes are, therefore, sexually transmitted cancers. The virus is highly contagious — tens of millions of men and women are thought to be infected. Most infections are asymptomatic and don’t amount to anything clinically. However, infection with one of the high-risk, oncogenic strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer in women, and cause cancer of the head and neck (including the tongue and throat), external genitals and anus in both men and women. The CDC estimates that more than 30,000 new cases of HPV-associated cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. Most HPV-associated cancers are easily prevented by getting a series of two (ages 9-14) or three (ages 15-26) shots of the HPV vaccine. The scientific peer-reviewed consensus among pediatricians, surgeons, and public health specialists is that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective in preventing HPV infections and its associated cancers. Lindsay Tanner spoke with one such expert:
Dr. Tanguy Seiwert, a head and neck cancer specialist at the University of Chicago, said the results show that doctors and parents need to step up efforts to vaccinate boys and young men and get over concerns that the HPV vaccine will lead to risky sexual behavior.
“Our society keeps talking about finding ‘the cure for cancer.’ Frankly, this is as close as it gets — it prevents cancer,” Seiwert said.
It’s a small world, and a dangerous one, too. A couple of weeks ago, we took stock of the facts as we know them and advised parents to do everything they can to protect their children. That means giving them life-and-limb-saving immunizations against all vaccine-preventable diseases, including HPV:
We live in interesting times. Dangerous times. If the last few weeks are any indication, it’s going to be a wild and bumpy ride. It’s advisable that parents brace themselves and do all they can to protect their children. That includes immunizing them without delay against all the dreadful and deadly infections which caused so much suffering and heartbreak in times gone by but today can be easily prevented with simple, well-studied, globally utilized vaccines…
More on HPV on The PediaBlog here.