HPV is the human papilloma virus. There are over 100 types, all transmitted pretty easily through skin contact. About 40 of these can also be passed on during sex. People who have a lot of sexual partners are therefore at increased risk.
The HPV vaccine is for girls, isn’t it?
The HPV vaccine is sometimes call the 'cervical cancer vaccine' by doctors and the NHS which, as far as men are concerned, can be a little misleading.
Some types of HPV – such as types 16 and 18 – increase the risk of cervical cancer. For this reason, teenage girls are now being routinely vaccinated against these types.
But some types may increase the risk of cancers affecting other parts of the body, including the vagina, vulva, anus, mouth, throat and penis. Again type 16 is in the frame.
Other types of HPV can cause warts including genital warts (types 6 and 11) and verrucas. This can be a particular problem for people with weakened immune systems as the result of disease or health treatment. (At the time of writing, genital warts were the most common sexually transmitted viral infection diagnosed in the UK.)
Some men who are concerned about these diseases – particularly anal cancer and genital warts – sometimes consider being vaccinated. This obviously also protects any women they have sex with.
Male vaccination is possible in the UK although it is done privately and, at the time of writing, outside the terms of the vaccine's licence.
Yes, vaccines, like all drugs, are licensed to be used in certain doses in certain patients to treat certain diseases. However, senior doctors may prescribe ‘off label’ and occasionally do so. Their professional bodies like the General Medical Council give good practice guidance.
What HPV vaccines are licensed in the UK?
There are two.
- Cervarix, which vaccinates against types 16 and 18, is used by the NHS to vaccinate teenage girls.
- Gardasil, the vaccine used in the US vaccination programme is also currently licensed in the UK for use in women and boys. As well as HPV types 16 and 18, Gardasil also protects against types 6 and 11.
Are all males likely to be vaccinated in the future?
Probably not. There is a debate about whether it might be worth the NHS routinely vaccinating boys but while this might help to protect girls, it’s probably not going to be cost-effective for men since penile and anal cancers are very rare and genital warts while unpleasant are not fatal. Individual men will make their own choice.
- More links about the debate on the Men's Health Forum site.
- Malehealth editor's blog: News headlines are no way to discuss complexities around vaccination
Images in the vaccination section were sourced from the Wikimedia Commons or Flikr (johnnyalive, Scott Ableman) or other open sources. They are for illustration only and don't show particular vaccines, needles or contagium.
Page created on August 12th, 2010
Page updated on September 21st, 2010