HPV Infection – confronting the epidemic

There are more than 100 types of Human Papilloma Virus out there causing infections that usually present as skin or mucous growths or warts. Some virus types, such as HPV 6, 8, 16 and 18 are associated with various cancers. Warts can affect different body areas, most commonly feet, hands, face, neck, and genital zone. Cervical cancer is the most common form of HPV caused cancer, but it’s not the only one. Less frequent, but also common are cancers of the anal region, penis, vagina, vulva, and throat.

Infection is usually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, and the virus enters the body through small lesions at the contact place. The infection is usually defeated by reaction of immune system before it manifests in any form.

Sexual intercourse, including vaginal, oral and anal intercourse, lead to the affection of genitalia or throat. Among risk factors, some are confirmed to increase chances of conducting infection: a high number of frequently changed sexual partners, deficiency of immune system and various lesions of the skin and mucous membranes.

Does Human Papilloma Virus cause cancer in men?

When talking about the connection between HPV and cancer, people usually refer to cervical cancer and cancers in women. Wrongly neglected is the fact that this virus causes infection and increases the risk of cancer in men too. In the beginning, the conditions are the same for both genders. The virus is usually sexually transmitted and most often eliminated by the immune system within two years. In the meantime, it can manifest itself or stay silent and be transferred to a sexual partner. Several high –risk virus types cause a persistent infection that gradually leads to cancers. Risk factors, common places of infection and types of cancer are different for men and women. Men are exposed to high risk of penis cancer, cancer of anal region, mouth, tongue and throat cancer. The especially high risk of infection refers to HIV positive men or MSM group – men who have sex with other men, since the anal mucous membrane is a particularly weak spot for getting infected.

Vaccines are recommended for girls and young women, but what about young men?

HPV vaccines are available as protection and prevention for all girls and women up to 26, and systemic immunization is conducted for years so far. Protecting school – girl primarily with HPV immunization was approved back in 2008, and it has been showing excellent results ever since. Since the girls and young women are at great risk of developing cervical cancer if infected, the idea was to protect them and consequentially protect men too via herd immunity. Unfortunately, this approach didn’t take into consideration the fact that some men don’t have sex with women, so the virus kept spreading in MSM group. After acknowledging this omission, many governments and medical communities debated for a change of policy.

 The UK offers immunization to gay men for the first time

Shortly after the clinic in North West London conducted a study among men in MSM group who were vaccinated with HPV quadrivalent vaccine containing HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18 types and reported fantastic take – up and results, UK health minister and government agreed to give approval to systemic immunization of gay men. Currently, due to some delays and persisting suspicions, the vaccination will be limited, but if the results keep proving it as an effective method of prevention of HPV infection and related cancers among men, the program will raise to the national level. Starting from June, male’s ages 9 to 30 will be advised to receive HPV vaccine and the studies will monitor the future rates of anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers.