The HPV vaccine — what men need to know

The human papilloma virus vaccine protects against HPV infections, which can lead to genital warts and HPV-related cancers like cervical cancer in women and throat cancer in men.

Because men, like women, are also at risk for HPV-related cancers, doctors recommend that boys and girls between the ages of 11 to 12 start the vaccine series to protect them from spreading or contracting the virus. For many boys and men, however, the message is often met with confusion: Many feel unclear about when and why they should receive the vaccine. Because men can be carriers of the virus, it’s important that they know the facts.

Here are the top things men need to know about HPV and vaccination:

[READ: Answers to Parents’ Questions About Vaccines]

Men are at risk for HPV-related cancers.

Men need to be concerned about HPV for two reasons. First, men can be carriers of the virus and can infect their partners. Second, men are at risk for several of HPV-associated cancers, namely anal cancer, penile cancer and throat cancer.

Doctors actually see very high rates of throat cancer in middle-aged men. These cases are predominantly not the same cancers that we see in patients who have long histories of tobacco and alcohol use. Although throat cancer is treatable, the treatment is extremely painful. This is why my colleagues and I at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute want to spread the message that HPV vaccination is cancer prevention for both men and women.

[See: What Causes Cancer? 5 Unlikely Claims Explained.]

Men should be vaccinated.

The HPV vaccine is applicable to both males and females. The vaccine is available from ages 9 to 21 for men. It can also be given up to age 45 in men who are at higher risk for developing HPV infections. Boys under age 15, just like girls, only need two shots, six months apart. At the age of 15 and older, males need a series of three shots.

The HPV vaccine is not the same as sexual promiscuity.

When the HPV vaccine was first introduced, it was not framed as a cancer-prevention vaccine. Because of this, some people started tying it to sexual promiscuity, which is inaccurate. The HPV vaccine does not encourage sexual activity, nor does it mean the person who receives the vaccine is already sexually active. In fact, the vaccine’s emphasis is on cancer prevention. After you’ve contracted HPV, it is too late to get vaccinated. Because 43,000 people in the United States will be affected by an HPV-related cancer every year, men need to understand the crucial role the HPV vaccine can play in their health and the health of their partners.

The HPV vaccine is preventive.

For many years, the general public has been asking doctors for a vaccine to prevent cancer. We have one: the HPV vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors adverse vaccine events and has seen no increased adverse events for HPV vaccination when compared with other childhood vaccines. As a safe and effective preventive action, it’s important that men open up a dialogue with their health care provider to answer any questions they might have before getting the vaccine. In this conversation, you can establish the appropriate plan of action and dosage based on age.

[Read: What Parents Should Know About Teen Depression.]

Because an individual can get HPV if their partner doesn’t have signs or symptoms of infection, and many don’t realize they’re infected, an important first step to preventing cancer is vaccination. By initiating a conversation with a health care provider, men can take the first step in ensuring their reduced risk for spreading or contracting HPV — a step that all men should take.

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The HPV Vaccine for Men originally appeared on usnews.com

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