By Walter Ang
October-November 2009 issue
Because, as it turns out, there is another HPV illness (aside from cervical cancer) that affects a greater number of men and women worldwide: genital and anal warts. This is according to the visiting Chief Examiner in Gynecological Oncology for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The thing is, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and you can get it (and pass it to others) whether you are male or female. There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of both men and women.
For women, this includes the vulva, the lining of the vagina, and the cervix. For men, this includes the skin of the penis and scrotum. For both, the skin in the anus and lining of the rectum can also be infected.
While most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems, certain types of HPV have been found to cause warts on the areas mentioned above, and worse, cancers of the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, and penis.
HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. Just like any other virus, once you've contracted it, you have it for life. You can have HPV even if years have passed after you've had sexual contact.
If the risk of getting cancer doesn't scare you into getting a vaccine, then maybe the thought of getting warts will. According to Dr. Gerard V. Wain, Director and Senior Staff Specialist of the Gynecological Oncology Unit at the Westmead Hospital in NSW Australia and Senior Lecturer for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Sydney, "[Patients] who have been affected by genital warts report recurring medical problems, sexual difficulties, psychosocial distress, financial burden, and social isolation."
Garage Magazine was invited to a presentation by Dr. Wain on the use of Gardasil HPV vaccine organized by Merk Sharp & Dohme (MSD), the vaccine's manufacturer.
For men, warts caused by HPV can appear in the penis, scrotum, anus, and even the groin area and thighs. These warts can cause itchiness and discomfort, and, in some cases, have an unsightly look (some warts are described as "cruciferous," meaning shaped like cauliflowers). Treatment of these kinds of warts can be painful and expensive, and there is always a chance that the warts will recur.
While HPV is frequently asymptomatic (meaning you could be infected but never get any symptoms), why risk the chance of the HPV developing into warts or cancer? Also, think about the next partner you have sexual contact with, you could be the one to give this person HPV.
Because of the stigma of having genital or anal warts, we don't get to hear a lot about it the same way we would for diseases like, say, cancer. But that doesn't mean it's not out there. Dr. Wain noted that while the Philippines does not yet have records of the incidence of genital and anal warts, statistics from other countries show a rise the number of people getting HPV infections and developing genital and anal warts.
Citing data from the Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom, Dr. Wain disclosed that the incidence of genital warts in the UK has increased 18% in females and 34% in male from 1996 to 2005. In the United States, an estimated half to one million new cases of genital warts occur every year. About 1 percent of sexually active Americans have genital warts at any one time.
He also cited that, according to US data, about 50% of sexually active men and women, at some point in their lives, will be infected by HPV. Given the prevalence of genital warts that affect millions of individuals worldwide, Dr. Wain said, "The reported efficacy of the HPV vaccine is an important development in the global fight against sexually transmitted illnesses."
If you think about it, it's even more important for men to get the vaccine than women because at least women can avail of Pap smears to screen for the presence of cancerous cells in their genitals (and thus have a higher chance of survival if the cancer is caught early enough). For men, there is no test yet to detect early signs of HPV-associated cancers (meaning by the time the cancer is diagnosed, it's usually too late for treatments to be successful).
The Australian oncologist noted that Gardasil has shown to help protect against four types of HPV: types 16 and 18 which cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers; and types 6 and 11, which cause approximately 90% of genital warts. In the Philippines, Gardasil was recently approved by the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) for men ages 9-26.