All around the world scientists have been focusing more on the role of the HPV virus in cancers among men, both anal cancer and throat cancer, as it’s an increasing health hazard to men. Especially those who are gay and bisexual. Icelandic doctor says that in a perfect world boys would get HPV vaccine as well as girls.
The discussion about whether or not to start vaccinating boys against the HPV virus has become increasingly loud. Recently an article on Buzzfeed accused the British government of discriminating against gay men by not having boys vaccinated like the girls. It is a heated discussion but not unreasonable considering that 2000 gay men are diagnosed in the U.K. every year with anal cancer caused by HPV. In 2012 Australia was the first country to announce a publicly funded national immunisation programme for HPV in teenage boys and many other countries are considering it. However in Iceland only girls are offered HPV vaccination at the age of 12.
“In a perfect world boys would get vaccinated as well, but it is still an expensive procedure and as girls are considered to be at bigger risk to get cervical cancer caused by the HPV virus we have opted for limiting the vaccination to them,” says Lára Sigurðardóttir a doctor who works for the Cancer detection clinic of The Icelandic Cancer Society, when asked if it has not been considered to vaccinate boys that age as well as girls.
According to Lára HPV has many subtypes but the current vaccine gives immunity against the most aggressive types 16 and 18 that are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer. Other HPV types that is still not vaccinated against can also cause cancer. The HPV-related cancer among boys occur in the anus, throat and penis. Boys who have sex with girls are protected if the girls are vaccinated but boys that have sex with boys will not get any protection from the HPV-virus.
“Hopefully in the future, when the vaccine has lowered in price we will start to vaccinate the boys as well,” she says. “There is however nothing that prevents men to get the vaccination from their GP, if they choose to do so, but it is still rather expensive, about 60.000 icelandic krónur for the whole treatment.”
“In a perfect world boys would get vaccinated as well, but it is still an expensive procedure and as girls are considered to be at bigger risk to get cervical cancer caused by the HPV virus we have opted for limiting the vaccination to them.”
Getting the vaccination at a later age has been proved to lower the risk for the HPV virus to cause cancer. However its better to get the vaccination before people become sexually active so that there is no risk that they have already caught the virus, hence the 12 age limit for girls in Iceland.
The reasons for my conversation with Lára is partly due to the “Mustache March” (i. Mottumars), a campaign that’s held in March every year in Iceland to raise awareness in men regarding cancer. This year the focus was on colon cancer and anal cancer but Lára says that none of the campaign was aimed specifically at gay men.
“I guess the reason for that is that they are a minority group and our aim was to get all men to pay more attention to the importance colorectal of screening along with warning signs of cancer and go to doctors for check ups if they have symptoms.”
But she adds that it is certainly a timely idea to set the focus on gay men. “And aim our prevention campaigns more at them than we have been doing.”
So hopefully the perfect world – in that regard – that Lára talks about is just around the corner.