For years, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been widely recognized as an important weapon against cervical cancer in women. However, its benefits extend beyond protecting women’s health, as well as playing an important role in protecting men from a number of health risks.
Break the chain of transmission: Although HPV is indeed classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it is important to understand that it can also be spread through non-sexual skin-to-skin contact. This means that even uninfected men can carry the virus and unknowingly pass it on to their partners. Although a vaccinated person can still carry the virus, the HPV vaccine significantly reduces the viral load in their body. This translates into a lower risk of transmission of the virus between female partners, thereby indirectly contributing to a reduction in the incidence of cervical cancer.
Protecting men from cancer: The HPV vaccine’s protective umbrella extends beyond cervical cancer, protecting men from two potentially life-threatening diseases: oropharyngeal cancer (throat cancer) and penile cancer. Studies have shown that HPV strains 16 and 18, targeted by the vaccine, are responsible for about 70% of oropharyngeal cancers and 40% of penile cancers. By being proactively vaccinated, men can reduce their risk of this aggressive cancer, providing a stronger protection.
Warts: Genital warts, although not life-threatening, can cause significant discomfort and embarrassment for men. These warts are also caused by certain HPV strains covered by the vaccine. Vaccination reduces the chance of contracting these unsightly growths, providing peace of mind and eliminating a potential source of self-consciousness.
The benefits of HPV vaccination for men go beyond personal health. By reducing overall HPV prevalence in the population, people can create a domino effect: reducing cervical cancer cases among women, reducing the burden on the health care system, and promoting overall sexual health for everyone.
HPV vaccination for men is not only an option, but an important public health intervention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine HPV vaccination for all boys and girls ages 11 or 12. Even young men who miss out on getting vaccinated early on can benefit from catching up later, with the CDC recommending vaccination until age 26.
While the importance of protecting women from cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine is well established, it is time to recognize the extensive benefits that this vaccine offers to men as well. By empowering men with knowledge and access to HPV vaccination, people can build a healthier future both individually and as a community.
(Dr Mandeep Singh Malhotra Director of Surgical Oncology, CK Birla Hospital, Delhi)