HPV Vaccinations Among Males

by Brittany Bostic on November 26, 2013

Last week we left off with a brief  introduction of  Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and how males are less likely to receive vaccinations than women. These vaccinations can help reduce chances of getting genital warts and cancers that can be deadly. 

According to the CDC, there are more than 40 strands of HPV that can infect male and female genital areas, mouth, and throat. HPV is a virus that lives on the skin and can cause genital warts and certain cancers. Cancers that it may cause are cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal. More rarely HPV can cause recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a condition in which warts grow in the throat.

HPV is transmitted sexually and anyone that engages in sexual activity is at risk for contracting HPV.

The CDC claims that “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives” In most instances the virus goes away, and does not lead to any health problems. However, if the virus lingers, HPV can cause normal cells to become abnormal, that’s when warts or cancer can develop.

So What about Vaccinations?

According to the CDC, HPV vaccines can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV that can lead to disease and cancer. HPV vaccines are recommended for 11 and 12-year-old boys and girls. HPV vaccines are given in three shots over six months; it is important to get all three doses to get the best protection. Boys and girls at ages 11 or 12 are most likely to have the best protection provided by HPV vaccines, because their immune response is better at that age.

For women and men vaccinations are recommended between the ages of 11-26 years.

Why Aren’t Males Getting Vaccinated?

There are multiple reasons whey males are not being vaccinated:

Parental Involvement

Since the recommended age for the best protection against HPV is 11-12 years old (and can be given as early as 9 years old), children must have their parents consent. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, some parents may think that this vaccine is irrelevant to their young child that may still be in elementary school.  Some parents may not be aware that their sons could get the vaccine and others may be against vaccinations all together.

Media Exposure and Clinical Recommendations

In 2006, Gardasil was approved by the FDA as an HPV vaccine for males and females, however at that time it was only advertised to young girls. Media and advertisement really captured the attention of parents and clinicians because it focused on HPVs connection to cervical cancer and how it could help prevent it. This was the first medication that I have heard of that could prevent cancer, cancer has always been one of those mysterious diseases where the etiology was unknown. However with HPV we learned a cause of cancer and mode of prevention which was ground breaking.  Parents of young girls now had options to prevent cervical cancer.

It wasn’t until 2009, that the FDA and Clinicians started to market this vaccine to males. The media exposure that was given to girls wasn’t close to that of boys, most people thought of HPV as something that only caused cervical cancer and  had no real threat to males especially since penile, anal, and throat cancers had not been emphasized.

A study was conducted in 2010, and researchers discovered that out of 547 parents of males that were nationally surveyed, researchers found that 535 of those parents had sons that were un-vaccinated (and out of those that were vaccinated only 2 males received the full vaccine (3 doses of medication)). Out of the 535 parents that had un-vaccinated sons, 80% of them didn’t know that a vaccine was available for males. This study also showed that only 3% of those surveyed received recommendations by their physician.

Lee Memorial Health System in Florida  explains initial HPV vaccine misconceptions and its relevance to males:

Vaccine Controversy

In the U.S. there always has been a general controversy over vaccinating children. Some parents are totally against it and others are all for it. There are some side-effects that have been reported for the HPV vaccine (pain, swelling, redness, fever, headache, nausea, joint pain) as there are with almost any medication on the market. At the end of the day it’s a personal choice to get vaccinated, and just like any decision that you make you have to weight the pros and cons.

As I mentioned last week my sister was diagnosed with cervical cancer that stemmed from HPV, when we heard this news we were devastated. We had no idea what to expect, fortunately her cancer was in the early stages and was removed. Had it not been in the early stages who knows how things could have turned out. For our family, especially my sister’s children she has chosen to get them vaccinated (boy’s and girl’s), because she knows the effect of HPV first hand. Being educated on the virus was her first step, and being able to plan to protect her children in the future is her priority and her prerogative.

It’s important to understand that both males and females are affected by HPV and the threat of genital warts and cancer is a possibility for both cohorts. So stay informed and make the right decisions for your health and the health of others.

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