HPV vaccine: Why guys don’t get it

UNC-CHAPEL HILL (US) — When men learn the HPV vaccine—which protects women from cervical cancer—can prevent anal cancer, they’re more willing to get vaccinated, a new study shows.

Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, to prevent anal cancer and associated precancerous lesions due to the virus in both males and females aged 9 to 26.

The vaccine can potentially protect young men from strains of the virus that cause about 90 percent of anal cancers, as well as several other cancers and genital warts. However, few adolescent boys and young men in the United States who are eligible for the vaccine have initiated the three-dose vaccination series.

“The FDA made a critical public health decision,” says Noel Brewer, senior investigator on the study and assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Now that HPV vaccine can prevent anal cancer, I believe it will motivate men to get the vaccine and decrease cancer deaths.”

Researchers surveyed a national sample of more than 600 men aged 18-59 and asked about their willingness to get vaccinated. Sixty percent wanted the cancer-preventing vaccine, compared to 42 percent when the vaccine was depicted as only protecting against warts. The findings were reported in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

“Now that HPV vaccine is indicated for cancer prevention in males, it’s important for health-care providers and public health professionals to be aware of these findings,” says Annie-Laurie McRee, the study’s lead author and a UNC doctoral student. “Being able to promote the cancer prevention benefits of vaccination is especially important, in part because people perceive cancer to be more severe than other HPV-related diseases like warts.”

The study was funded by the Investigator-Initiated Studies Program of Merck & Co. Inc., an HPV vaccine maker; the American Cancer Society; and UNC.

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