HPV Shot Protects Boys from Cancer Too

HPV vaccine can help prevent various cancers in males

(RxWiki News) One of the easiest ways to prevent more than five different kinds of cancers is to get vaccinated for HPV - but doctors may not be vaccinating boys as frequently as they should be.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts as well as a number of different cancers. Not vaccinating boys as diligently as girls leaves boys vulnerable to multiple forms of cancer.

"Ask your pediatrician if your son should get the HPV vaccination."

The media has primarily covered the recommendations to vaccinate young girls against HPV, which can cause cervical cancer. Once the leading cause of cancer death for women in the US, cervical cancer rates have dropped dramatically as women get annual Pap tests and are expected to continue declining as vaccination coverage increases.

But the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the Centers for Disease and Prevention also recently recommended that boys be vaccinated against the disease - not just to prevent the spread of it to girls but because of cancers the disease can cause in men as well.

Dr. Rebecca Perkins, MD, MSc, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University School of Medicine, led a study in which 23 doctors and eight nurse practitioners were interviewed regarding their attitudes and behaviors toward HPV vaccinations.

The medical professionals, from four Boston-area community health centers, mostly treat low-income, minority, and non-English speaking patients.

Perkins' team found that only three of these providers offered the HPV vaccination to boys even though 24 of the 31 believed males should be vaccinated for the disease.

The providers who did not offer the vaccination did not realize that HPV could also cause cancers and serious medical conditions in males and did not believe their patients' parents would care to vaccinate their sons just to prevent cervical cancer in women.

HPV, however, can cause cancer in the anus, penis and throat for men, and approximately 7,000 cancers associated with HPV are diagnosed in men each year.

ACIP made its recommendations for males to get the HPV vaccine based on data showing that HPV is increasingly responsible for head and neck cancers and that vaccination can prevent both the genital warts caused by HPV and the likelihood of developing those specific cancers in men.

The recommendations are for boys to receive an initial HPV shot when they are 11 or 12 years old, followed by a booster some time between the ages of 13 and 21.

Perkins' research reveals that family doctors need more information regarding the potential impact of boys' contracting HPV so that adherence to ACIP's recommendations is more widespread.

"Although we believe the new recommendations will likely cause some improvement in HPV vaccination levels for males, their adoption may remain slow if physicians are unaware of the rationale behind the strengthened recommendations," Perkins said.

An increase in awareness about HPV's effects in males is also necessary for parents to understand why vaccinating their sons is important, Perkins pointed out.

"Although prior research indicated that most physicians supported HPV vaccination for males, research with both parents and providers raised concerns that parents may be more reluctant to vaccinate sons than daughters," she said.

The study was published online March 13 in the American Journal of Men's Health. The research was funded by an American Cancer Society Mentored Research Scholar Grant.

Review Date: 
March 18, 2012