Sexual health experts back HPV vaccination for young gay men
Young gay men should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, UK sexual health experts have said.
Homosexual men are more likely than straight men to develop HPV-linked cancers, particularly anal cancer, warns the editorial published in Sexually Transmitted Infections.
Since 2008, all girls aged 12 to 18 have been offered HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
The HPV vaccination programme focused exclusively on girls, on the grounds that such a measure would also stop it spreading among boys. However, this has left gay men unprotected.
Extending the vaccination programme to gay men would end a healthcare inequality and ultimately be cost effective for the NHS in the long-term, the authors - Mark Lawton from Liverpool University Hospital, Mayura Nathan from Homerton Hospital and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital's David Asboe - argue.
Incidences of anal cancer are fifteen higher among gay men. And in Australia, HPV vaccination of girls has had an impact on the prevalence of genital warts in straight men, but there has been no such change in prevalence among gay men, current figures show.
While the HPV jab is only offered only to young women in the UK, the jab is known to be effective in men, including gay men, according to recent research.
Jessica Harris, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, backed the experts's call.
"Vaccinating teenage girls against HPV is one of the most important public health developments of the last few decades, and will lead to a dramatic reduction in cervical cancer rates.
"HPV vaccination can help protect against other cancers including anal cancer. Gay men are at higher risk of anal cancer and we are supportive of efforts to protect them from this, and other, HPV-related diseases. Vaccination could be a great way to achieve this."
But she cautioned that one of the problems was identifying who to vaccinate. "The challenge is how to get these men vaccinated before they first have sex, so that they are less likely to be infected with HPV and the vaccine is more likely to be effective," she added.
The report's authors propose that the UK's sexual health clinics would be ideally placed to offer the vaccine, particularly as they already offer hepatitis B vaccination.
In 2010, 17,000 gay men between the ages of 16 and 26 visited these clinics in England.
Copyright Press Association 2013