Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

In My Opinion

HPV vaccine has multiple benefits

By Nayer Khazeni, MD, MS
Medical Fellow, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

 

Nayer Khazeni, MD, advises patients on the new HPV vaccine, which may benefit both men and women.

   

If you’re not a young woman or a mother of one, you may think the recent news and controversy about HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination doesn’t apply to you. But as HPV’s role in a wide variety of conditions other than cervical cancer is being discovered, the vaccine may soon be of interest to you whether you’re female or male, young or old.

HPV has many different subtypes, some of which can be transmitted without sexual contact, causing diseases as harmless as skin warts often passed around by children. But it is also the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, causing anal and genital warts and, more seriously, cervical cancer. Most western countries have made formal recommendations for vaccinating girls and young women, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests vaccination for girls aged 11 to 26.

But the vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective in women up to age 55, and they were recently approved for women over 26 in Australia. Talk to your doctor to see if you’re eligible. For now, you might have to pay for it out of pocket, but this may change as studies examine cost-effectiveness in adults, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration performs an expedited review for approval in women over age 26.

You may soon be hearing more news about HPV vaccination in males. HPV vaccines are currently approved for boys in Europe, Australia and Mexico, and may be approved for boys in the U.S. by 2009. While the initial goal of vaccinating males is to prevent transmission of the virus to their sexual partners, investigators are increasingly examining the vaccine’s role in protecting men against a host of other HPV-related diseases to which they are susceptible themselves.

HPV can cause many anal, penile and vulvar cancers. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2007 found an extremely strong association between oral HPV infection and head and neck cancers, and a February 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed an increase in the rate of cancers caused by HPV infection as opposed to the rate caused by tobacco and alcohol (the two previously implicated risk factors).

The good news is that most of the HPV subtypes causing these malignancies are the same as those targeted by currently available vaccines. Despite recent concerns about vaccine safety, the CDC has not found a clear link between HPV vaccination and serious adverse events. So stay tuned as researchers discover more about this troublesome virus and ways to protect you from it.

Nayer Khazeni, MD, MS, specializes in pulmonary and critical care medicine, teaches and conducts research at Stanford University Medical Center.

Footer Links: