Just Out!!! Gardasil, the vaccine that protects girls and women from genital warts and cervical cancer has been approved for boys and men. Genital warts, cervical cancer, and some cancers of the penis, scrotum, anus, and throat are caused by certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV). While the vaccine may not protect boys and men against all HPV types that can cause these cancers, it does protect them against the two HPV types (types 6 and 11) that cause 90 percent of genital warts in the U.S.
These HPVs are sexually transmitted. Most people get them because they are easily passed by genital skin-to-skin contact. Actual sexual intercourse does not have to occur. Rubbing against each other while naked, mutual masturbation combined with embraces, sharing of sex toys, oral sex, anal sex, vaginal intercourse - you name it - if it involves skin-to-skin contact, HPV can be transmitted. This is why HPV is so common, and everyone should expect to get it unless vaccinated.
Just like for girls, the vaccine works best when given to boys before they are sexually active. And just like for women, it can be given to men who are already sexually active, since some young adults may have been exposed to some but not all of the HPV types the vaccine protects against. In these situations, the vaccine will protect young adults from those HPV types they do not already have.
The FDA has approved vaccination for girls, boys, women, and men and between the ages of nine and 26. So, if you are between nine and 26, the best course of action is to get vaccinated. And remember, sexual networks where sex occurs among circles of friends and acquaintances are common, even though you might not want to believe it. That means SPREAD THE WORD to all friends and acquaintances. Everyone ages nine to 26 should be vaccinated. It is the only way to stem the tide of HPV related disease in our community.
HPV vaccines are expensive - about $360 for the series of three injections. (You are not maximally protected until you have received all three injections.) If you have insurance, check to make sure it covers the vaccine. If you do not have insurance, your health care provider may be able to get the vaccine free for you through a patient assistance program. All major vaccine manufacturers have patient assistance programs. If your health care provider is unaware of this, guide her or him to the manufacturer's website or have her or him call the customer service number listed in the Physicians' Desk Reference - or ask your pharmacist for guidance.
Until next time, here's to your sexual health,
Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, MBA, is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.