HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most common STI — Planned Parenthood and the CDC estimate that almost every single sexually active person will contract one of the more than 200 viruses that make up HPV at some point in their lives. The good news about HPV is that there’s a vaccine to protect against some of the major strains, including two types of HPV (16 and 18) that are considered high-risk and cause at least 70 percent of cervical cancers, about 95 percent of anal cancers, and more than half of all cases of oropharyngeal cancers in the soft palate, tongue, and tonsils.
But the bad news about the HPV vaccine is that not everyone gets it, and men in particular fall behind when it comes to taking the preventative measure of getting the round of shots. And now, new data from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, adds even more reasons for why men should receive the HPV vaccine. According to the data, one in nine men living in the United States has an oral HPV infection. That’s about 11 million men, compared to only about 3.2 million women nationwide who have oral HPV.
The study sourced its data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, a nationally representative group of adults aged 18-69 who had physical exams (including HPV testing) at mobile examination centers between 2011 and 2014. Aside from the higher prevalence of oral HPV among men, researchers also saw that HPV 16 — a high-risk strain that causes about half of all oropharyngeal cancers — is six times as common in men than in women. The men at highest risk for oral HPV infections are those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day, regularly use marijuana, and people who’ve had 16 or more vaginal or oral sexual partners, according to the study.
In an email to CNN, Ashish Deshmukh, senior author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions, said one reason why the prevalence of oral HPV is so much higher in men because infections may persist longer. “It is also possible that men acquire oral HPV more readily than women,” he said.
The takeaway for men — and everyone, really — is that being vaccinated for HPV is incredibly important. The CDC currently recommends adolescents of all genders start receiving the three-round vaccination at age 11 or 12, though adults can also be vaccinated if they weren’t when they were younger. The CDC also recently updated its HPV vaccine guidelines to note that receiving just two of the three vaccinations is about equally as effective as receiving all three. Or in other words, making even two-thirds of the effort to prevent an STI that doctors know is responsible for several types of cancer can be hugely beneficial to your health, and the health of your sexual partners.
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