HPV vaccine may prevent throat, mouth cancer in men

The HPV vaccine may prevent throat and mouth cancers in men, even among those who have not been vaccinated against the disease, according to a study published Sept. 10 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

HPV gives 20,700 women and 14,100 men cancer every year in the United States, according to the CDC. The most common HPV-related cancer in men is cancer of the mouth and throat, with 11,300 of an estimated 13,500 cases occurring in men. 

"The burden of HPV positive oropharynx cancer in men in the United States now exceeds the burden of cervical cancer diagnosed each year," study author Maura Gillison, MD, PhD, an oncologist at Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center, told STAT

Most experts believe the vaccine Gardasil prevents HPV infections everywhere in the body, and therefore, any resulting cancers. However, precancerous lesions in the throat are undetectable, so it's impossible to prove a vaccine could prevent tumors in the throat. The initial FDA approval of Gardasil focused on girls because it was possible to prove that the vaccine could prevent precancerous cervical lesions, Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told STAT.

For the new study, researchers assessed whether the use of Gardasil in a population could lower the chance of HPV infection in unvaccinated men. Between 2009 and 2016, vaccination rates among men included in the study sample increased from zero to 5.8 percent. During the study period, the prevalence of the HPV strains included in the vaccine declined 37 percent in unvaccinated men.

The study findings suggest that the HPV vaccine may be effective at preventing head and neck cancers, along with cervical cancer. Those results would be even stronger if more boys and men were vaccinated, according to Dr. Gillison. 

Dr. Offit told STAT that increasing vaccination rates among adolescent boys and girls could save thousands of lives annually.

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