Your Voice: The HPV Vaccine Isn't Just For Women

This piece appeared here as a letter to the editor in the Montana Kaimin in October 2019. 

I wish to contribute an urgent addendum to the Kaimin’s Aug. 29 “Peaches and Cream” guide to safe sex: Boys and men and people with male anatomies can and should get vaccinated for human papillomavirus, too. 

Men who vaccinate can not only prevent the spread of HPV, which is the most common STI, but they can greatly reduce their risk of anal and throat (and even, potentially, penile) cancers caused by HPV. According to the Center for Disease Control, 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, which is transferred through genital contact. Gardasil 9 is a vaccination for the nine types of HPV (types 6, 11, 16, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that cause the majority of HPV-related cancers and genital warts in people of all sexes. 

Gardasil 9 is best known for reducing the risk of HPV-related cervical cancer, and was, in my recollection as a 25-year-old woman, at first marketed and distributed only to females. But the vaccine can also protect people from vulvar, vaginal, anal, and orophryngeal cancer. 

Men get oropharyngeal cancer, or cancer of the middle throat, at least twice as much as women do (the reasons for this discrepancy remain unclear). 

Certain celebrities, including actor Michael Douglas and singer Bruce Dickinson, have spoken publicly about their throat and tongue cancers, respectively, being caused by HPV contracted from oral sex. HPV screening is available for women over 30, but there is no good way to screen for it in men, and the virus can lie dormant for years. 

So go to Curry Health Center and ask for Gardasil 9 (Gardasil 9 is not recommended for people with severe yeast allergies or autoimmune deficiencies). If you did not get vaccinated back when you were 11 or 12, never fear: The CDC recommends vaccination until age 26 (the sooner the better); it’s available to people up to age 45. Other ways to prevent the spread of HPV and reduce your risk for its attendant cancers and warts include using condoms and dental dams.