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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 09
Half of adult men may have HPV, new study finds
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Half of adult men may have HPV, new study finds

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Half of adult men in the U.S. population may be infected with HPV (human papillomavirus), according to a new study released on February 28.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and appears in the current issue of The Lancet.

Anna Giuliano of the H Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, and her colleagues studied HPV infection rates among more than 1,100 men aged 18 to 70 in the United States, Brazil, and Mexico.

'We found that a big proportion - about 50% - of men have genital HPV infection of one type or another,' Giuliano said in an ABC News interview.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that can cause a number of different cancers in men and women.

HPV infection is best known as the primary cause of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women worldwide. But various strains of HPV also cause anal, penile, head, and neck cancers.

'I've been studying HPV in women for many years ... but I realized that we knew almost nothing about HPV infections in men,' said Giuliano.

'The biology seems to be very similar [to women],' Giuliano said in a separate interview with Reuters news service. 'What is different is men seem to have high prevalence of genital HPV infections throughout their lifespans.'

She said it appears that women are better able to clear an HPV infection, especially as they age, but men do not appear to have this same ability.

Independent experts who were not involved in Giuliano's study say the sample size is small and recruitment was limited, so the men in the study may not accurately represent the populations of the three countries.

Nevertheless, they say the findings may have important public health implications.

Anal cancer is one of the less common types of cancer, with an estimated 5,300 new U.S. cases diagnosed each year, but the incidence is increasing.

Although it is relatively rare, anal cancer affects men who have sex with men and people living with HIV at a significantly higher rate than the general public.

According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, Gay and Bisexual men are about 20 times more likely to be diagnosed with anal cancer than the general population.

That likelihood is almost 40 times higher for men living with HIV.

Although anal cancer affects women at a higher rate than men, health outcomes are considerably poorer for men, especially African American men.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate among white women is approximately 71%, compared to only about 62% for white men.

Among African American men, the survival rate drops significantly to roughly 51%.

'The great majority of men don't know they're infected,' said Dr. Carlos del Rio, chair of the Department of Global Health at Emory University in Atlanta.

In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Merck's Gardasil HPV vaccine for prevention of anal cancers in both men and women, based on studies showing Gardasil was effective in men who have sex with men, a group that has a higher incidence of anal cancer.

Gardasil had sales of more than $1 billion last year.

Currently, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Gardasil vaccinations for girls and women between the ages of 11 and 26, but not for boys and men.

While doctors are permitted to use the vaccine for boys and men ages 9 through 26, U.S. health officials so far have declined to recommend routine vaccination for males.

Giuliano said that her study indicates that men need to be much more aware of the risks of HPV, and also could help determine whether widespread vaccination of men and boys is a cost-effective option.

Dr. Anne Szarewski of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London agreed.

'[The study] must surely strengthen the argument for vaccination of men, both for their own protection, and that of their partners,' she told Reuters.

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