Young sexual minority men need more info on HPV risks

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Young sexual minority men do not fully understand their risk for human papillomavirus (HPV) due to a lack of information from health care providers, according to new research.

The study in the Journal of Community Health examines what young sexual minority men—a high-risk and high-need population including those who are gay, bisexual, queer, or straight-identified men who have sex with men——know about HPV and the HPV vaccine and how health care providers communicate information about the virus and vaccine.

About 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, with about 14 million becoming newly infected each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a sexually transmitted infection, HPV can lead to several types of cancer, including anal and penile cancer, and is particularly concerning for sexual minority men due to the high prevalence of HIV and smoking in this community and the low HPV vaccination rates overall among men.

“Particularly in light of the decades-long focus on gay men’s health care as HIV care, there is a missed opportunity for HPV prevention in the community,” says study coauthor Caleb LoSchiavo, a doctoral student at the Rutgers School of Public Health.

The researchers analyzed interviews with sexual minority men in their early 20s in New York City and determined they knew little about HPV infection—including transmission, signs, symptoms, and cancer risk—and vaccination.

They also found that the men did not prioritize HPV vaccination due to the incorrect perception that HPV is an issue that exclusively or primarily affects women.

“Everyone who is sexually active—regardless of gender, sexual orientation, partners’ genders, relationship, or marital status—should talk to their doctor about receiving the HPV vaccine to prevent a future generation who may develop HPV-related cancers, such as cervical, oral, and anal cancer, as we have seen emerging in Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers,” says Perry N. Halkitis, Rutgers School of Public Health dean and director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies (CHIBPS).

The US Food and Drug Administration has expanded the use of HPV vaccine, originally prescribed for those between the ages of 9 and 26, to include people between the ages of 27 and 45.

In the study, researchers found that health care providers rarely discuss HPV and the HPV vaccine with patients who are young sexual minority men, and when they do, their communication is often inadequate in conveying potential risks of HPV and benefits of vaccination.

“Clinicians have a direct role in expanding the availability of LGBTQ-competent healthcare,” says lead author Jessica Jaiswal, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and CHIBPS affiliate.

“By learning about sexual minority men’s diverse health needs and routinely offering the HPV vaccine, we can move toward a health promotion model and not only a disease prevention model.”

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the study.

Source: Rutgers University