HPV is a virus that can infect both males and females of all ages. HPV infections may lead to diseases such as skin warts, genital warts, vaginal/vulvar cancers, cervical cancer, penile cancer and anal cancer. There are hundreds of subtypes of HPVs, with about 40 known to affect the genital area. Of these, there are high-risk types known to cause cancer and low-risk types which may cause genital warts. Vaccines against some of these high and low-risk types are available today.
Most HPV infections clear naturally, but there is no way to predict who can clear the virus on their own, or who will carry the virus and potentially spread it. The virus itself cannot be treated. However, some of the diseases it causes can be managed. For example, if a person infected with HPV presents with a wart, we can use medications to treat it or use various techniques to remove it, but the virus itself is not eradicated from the body. That is why vaccination is so important for everyone so that the virus will not take root in the body.
HPV vaccinations have been available since 2006, and the vaccination has seen high uptake in many countries as they have been introduced into their national immunization schedule. HPV vaccination, along with pap smears and HPV testing, has been the cornerstone in reducing the burden of cervical cancer in women. In fact, we are already starting to see the benefits of this vaccine in reduced precancerous lesions of the cervix among countries with high uptake of this vaccine.
The vaccination in its early introduction largely left out males. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently approved the use of Gardasil 9 for both males and females ages 9 to 45. The HPV vaccination is also now recommended by the U.S Center for Disease Control for men through age 21, for men who have sex with men, transgendered people, or those who have a compromised immune system (including HIV) who are ages 26 and younger. In the UK, from September this year, boys aged 12 and 13 would be offered the shots as part of a government health programme.
HPV has been linked to more than 99 per cent of cervical cancers, as well as 90 per cent of anal cancers, about 70 per cent of vaginal and vulvar cancers and more than 60 per cent of penile cancers. The protection against female cancers has already been proven. It also appears that vaccinated boys will receive some protection against anal and penile cancers as well.
There are 3 different types of HPV vaccines available in Singapore. Cervarix, which protects against 2 high-risk HPV types – 16 and 18. Gardasil 4, which protects against the high risk 16 and 18 and 2 more low-risk types 6 and 11. And Gardasil 9, the only vaccine used in the United States now which protects against 9 subtypes (6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58). The vaccination schedule is 3 doses; one on your first visit, one 2 months later and the last one 6 months after the first dose (0,2,6) Other dosing schedules may be suitable depending on your age.
So should you as a male get vaccinated? Speak to your doctor about it to discuss the pros and cons. As for myself as a male – I’m already vaccinated.