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Study Reveals How the HPV Vaccine Benefits Men

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine significantly lowers the risk of developing head and neck cancer in men and boys, according to a new study.

HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer, which claims the lives of about 4,000 American women each year. The virus can also cause anal, penile, neck and head cancers in men. However, despite considerable risks, vaccination rates in boys are still lagging behind those of girls.

A new study, the findings of which were announced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, suggests that the HPV vaccine effectively prevents cancers in both women and men.

The study examined the data of over three million people, half of whom received the HPV vaccine between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2023. Their average age was 21, and 56% were women.

Among vaccinated men and boys, there were 3.4 cases of HPV-related cancer for every 100,000 patients, compared to 7.5 cases for every 100,000 unvaccinated individuals.

The vaccine was found to be especially effective in lowering the risk of head and neck cancer. There were 2.8 cases of this type of cancer for every 100,000 vaccinated boys and men, compared to 6.3 cases for every 100,000 unvaccinated.

“We have known the HPV vaccine decreases rates of oral HPV infection, but this shows that in boys and men in particular, vaccination decreases the risk of HPV-related oropharyngeal and head and neck cancers. HPV vaccination is cancer prevention,” said lead study author Jefferson DeKloe, a research fellow at Thomas Jefferson University.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and globally, which may cause not only cancer but also genital warts.

One in five males over 15 have at least one genital HPV strain. Of those, nearly one-third carry at least one of the high-risk strains, according to a 2023 study, emphasizing the importance of timely vaccination of the boys.

Effective cervical cancer prevention

The new study confirmed previous findings on the vaccine’s effectiveness in reducing cancer risks in women and girls. There were 11.5 cases of HPV-related cancers for every 100,000 patients, in comparison to 15.8 cases for every 100,000 unvaccinated individuals.

This was especially true for cervical cancer prevention, as there were 7.4 vs 10.4 cases per 100,000 vaccinated and unvaccinated women and girls, respectively.

Another study published in the British Medical Journal in May found that the HPV vaccine reduced cervical cancer incidence rates by nearly 90% and pre-cancerous conditions by around 95% in women in England over 12 years.

Data from the U.S. is also promising. In women aged 20–24 — the generation exposed to the HPV vaccine — invasive cervical cancer incidence dropped by 65% from 2012 to 2019.

Who can get the HPV vaccine?

Evidence suggests that the vaccine is most effective when received at 11 or 12 years rather than later in life, as the risk of HPV exposure increases with age.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for everyone through age 26 years if not adequately vaccinated when younger, but not at older age.

However, some experts say the vaccine could also benefit those 27 and older, especially if they are sexually active and in non-monogamous relationships. As patients are unlikely to be exposed to all 12 high-risk HPV strains, the vaccine can prevent future infections.

Moreover, the vaccine has therapeutic properties. Research shows it can reduce the risk of cervical pre-cancer coming back after treatment and prevent the recurrence of genital warts.

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