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HPV vaccine can have big health benefits for men, research shows

By Eleanor Laise

Vaccine for common virus cuts risk of head and neck cancer in men, researchers find

A vaccine that's widely known to help protect women from cervical cancer can also offer significant health benefits for men, new research shows.

Human papillomavirus vaccination is linked with lower rates of head and neck cancer in men as well as a reduced risk of cervical cancer in women, according to new research set to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting, which starts next week in Chicago.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. More than 42 million people in the U.S. are infected with types of HPV that are known to cause disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infections can cause several types of cancer - including cancer of the back of the throat, called oropharyngeal cancer.

The new study, which involved nearly 5.5 million patients ages 9 through 39, found that HPV vaccination was linked with lower rates of HPV-related cancers in men and women. While previous research has shown that the HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of cervical cancer, less was known about its potential effects on other cancer risks.

"This is really important information that continues to make the case of why we need our boys and girls vaccinated against HPV," American Society of Clinical Oncology President Lynn Schuchter said at a press briefing Thursday.

The CDC recommends that children 11 to 12 years old get two doses of the HPV vaccine, given six to 12 months apart. The shots can be received starting at age 9, according to the agency. Teenagers and young adults up through age 26 should also get shots if they weren't fully vaccinated previously, the CDC says.

But only about 39% of children age 9 through 17 had received at least one HPV-vaccine dose as of 2022, with girls more likely than boys to get the vaccine, according to the CDC.

"Identifying effective interventions that increase HPV-vaccination rates is critical in reducing undue cancer burden" in the U.S., Jefferson DeKloe, research fellow at Thomas Jefferson University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.

Merck & Co.'s (MRK) Gardasil HPV vaccine was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration for females age 9 through 26 in 2006. In later years the vaccine was approved for boys and young men, and then for men and women age 27 through 45.

While HPV vaccination has been known to cut rates of oral HPV infection, "this study shows that in boys and men in particular, vaccination decreases the risk of HPV-related oropharyngeal head and neck cancers. HPV vaccination is cancer prevention," Glenn Hanna, director of the Center for Cancer Therapeutic Innovation at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a statement.

-Eleanor Laise

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05-25-24 0809ET

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