PORTLAND, Ore. (CIRCA) — Doctors say that Human papillomavirus (HPV) is entirely preventable with a widely available vaccine. But experts worry that several misconceptions about the sexually transmitted infection may be hindering progress in eliminating an HPV-related cancer in the United States.
One issue at play is a gender gap that increases the risk of infection for men. Despite HPV being a risk for both women and men, boys’ families are less often informed by health care providers about the importance of the vaccine. That’s because in 2006, when the vaccine was first introduced, it was only approved for women. Although that has since changed, there's still a lack of awareness.
“The rate of HPV-related oral pharyngeal cancers are rising, particularly among men,” Dr. Amanda Bruegl of OHSU told Circa affiliate KATU. “So that is providing some impetus for providers and parents to vaccinate both their male and female children.”
The vaccine works best when administered before a person is sexually active, but doctors say the sexual aspect leaves many parents uncomfortable with the idea.
“There’s also a stigma around that,” said Dr. Bruegl. “Like, oh, I got this vaccine for sexual health. And there’s a lot of sort of unease with that conversation with parents.”
Doctors say a national public health push is needed.
In the U.S., 65 percent of girls and 56 percent of boys have started the vaccine course, according to recent estimates.
Meanwhile, in Australia, 82 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys are vaccinated, and the country is set to eliminate cervical cancer within the next two decades.
“I think the study really highlights the power that we have at our fingertips to eradicate a cancer,” said Dr. Bruegl. “This is an opportunity to prevent cancer. In the lives of their children. I want [parents] to know that it is safe, it’s been well studied, and it’s effective.”