Young gay men are 15 times more likely to develop anal cancer due to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection compared to straight men, and should be given the HPV vaccine, British health experts say.
HPV vaccination in Britain began in 2008 but is limited to females to protect them against cervical cancer. Health authorities also believe that vaccinating females would curb the spread of HPV to males.
But the lack of HPV vaccination for males greatly increases young gay men's risk of developing anal cancer. It would be cost effective for Britain's National Health Service to provide HPV vaccination for young gay men, the sexual health experts wrote in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, published online July 15.
They said research shows that the HPV vaccine is effective in protecting gay men against HPV 16 and HPV 18, the two strains of the virus that cause most HPV-related cases of cancer. The vaccine is most effective in people who aren't already infected with these strains of HPV, but studies suggest that only a minority of young gay men are infected with these strains, according to a journal news release.
The biggest challenge would be to identify and vaccinate young gay men before they acquire HPV infection. But recent data show that vaccination of sexually active gay men is both clinically and cost effective, wrote Dr Mark Lawton, of the Liverpool Centre for Sexual Health at Royal Liverpool University Hospital, and colleagues.
"In the light of this evidence, and in the absence of universal vaccination of boys, the argument for introducing targeted HPV vaccination for [men who have sex with men] up to age 26 years is strong," the researchers concluded.
In the United States, HPV vaccination is recommended for the following people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years
- Teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger
- Teen girls and young women through age 26
- Teen boys and young men through age 21
- Gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with a man)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about HPV vaccination.