In 2006, the FDA released a vaccine that prevents infection with HPV in both men and women. Until that time, most people had never heard of HPV. It is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD) just as syphilis and gonorrhea are. HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer and even though it is much more rare, it can cause cancer in the vagina, vulva, penis, anus and the head and neck. It is spread by any sexual contact. Once infected, there is no treatment.
HPV has over 40 strains and some cause genital warts and some cause cancer. Genital warts can look like a head of cauliflower and can be small, flat bumps in the genitals, mouth, and throat areas. The strains that cause genital warts do not cause cancer. Strains 16 and 18, in particular, cause cancer. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.
There are actually two vaccines available, but only one is recommended for men. Gardasil is recommended for men up to age 26, especially in gay or bisexual men. Vaccination is now recommended for girls 9 to 26 and some states require that girls get the vaccine at the appropriate age before entering school.
Even though HPV is extremely common, the diseases that it can cause are much less common. It can be prevented with vaccination. There is no test that can be performed to diagnose HPV and most people who have it will not develop cancer or other problems. If you are a parent and are trying to decide whether or not to vaccinate your child, there is a wealth of information at www.cdc.org. Once armed with this information, you can make an informed decision about what is right for your child.