A vaccine intended for women could be useful for men

The new vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), known to be very efficient in preventing cervical cancer, could also prevent some infections in gay men.

The new vaccine that prevents human papillomavirus (HPV) infections will potentially spare thousands of cervical cancer cases when it is administered on a large scale to young girls. The vaccine intended for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26 is extremely efficient in preventing infections by four strands of HPV. These are the strands responsible for most cervical cancers and genital warts.

Some physicians are actually hoping this vaccine will also prevent a less-known disease that is fatal for gay men: anal cancer. Most often, this type of cancer is caused by the same strands of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Because the cervix is biologically similar to the anus, researchers are hoping the injection will be as effective for men as it is for women.

Anal cancer can affect anyone but is most prevalent in men who have had receptive anal intercourse, and even more so in those who are HIV positive. HIV is a sexually transmitted virus that weakens the immune system. Condoms can partially protect against this virus but the greater the number of sexual partners you have had, the greater the risk of infection.

The rate of anal cancer in gay men is similar to the rate of cervical cancer observed in women before the advent of the Papanicolaou test, commonly called “Pap test”. This test allows the detection of precancerous cells on the cervix. In the past few years, many physicians treating gay men recommend anal swabs during routine examinations. Just like a Pap test, cells are collected and observed under a microscope for any abnormalities.

Although there are good reasons to think the vaccine could be useful for gay men, this hypothesis has yet to be proven. A clinical trial is currently underway and the first results should be made public by the end of next year.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

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