Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: HPV vaccine for boys?

Q. My 14-year-old granddaughter has just completed her third injection of the Gardasil vaccine. I know it is designed to protect her from cervical cancer caused by a virus. But men can get the virus, too. Should my grandson also get the vaccine?

A. The virus in question is called human papillomavirus, or HPV. There are over 100 strains of HPV. About 40 of these strains can be transmitted by sexual contact. So-called low-risk strains cause genital warts (condylomas), but high-risk strains can cause cancer.

About 10,000 American women develop cancer of the cervix each year; nearly all cases are caused by HPV. High-risk strains of HPV can also cause cancer in men, but these malignancies are uncommon. Invasive cancer of the penis is diagnosed in fewer than 1,000 men a year; not all cases are associated with HPV, and the disease is especially rare in men who have been circumcised. Fewer than 1,500 cases of anal cancer are diagnosed in American men annually. Some are caused by HPV; most occur in gay men who practice receptive anal intercourse, and many patients also have immune systems that have been weakened by HIV infection. High-risk strains of HPV have also been linked to oral cancer.

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