How Does HPV Impact Men’s Health?

By Guest Writer - June 21, 2020

June is Men’s Health Month, a perfect time to remind the men in your life that human papillomavirus (HPV) does not discriminate. While most people associate HPV infections with cervical cancer, the virus can cause six types of cancer, including oropharyngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer occurring in the tonsils, soft palate and base of tongue. It is now more common in the U.S. than cervical cancer and disproportionately affects men.

Although nearly all men will get an HPV infection at some time in their life, most will clear the infection without knowledge they ever had it. However, when the virus persists, it can cause abnormal changes in the cells which can lead to cancer. This highly prevalent virus is estimated to cause over 14,000 cancers in men annually in the U.S. – penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancers. 

Moffitt Cancer Center has been working for 16 years to better understand HPV infections, especially in men. Researchers in its Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer (CIIRC) seek to understand HPV infections and how these infections progress to cancer to inform development of novel prevention and early detection interventions. 

“The HPV Infection in Men (HIM) study found that men develop little to no immunity following infection with HPV,” said Dr. Anna Giuliano, an epidemiologist and founding director of CIIRC. “This is why it is critical to vaccinate boys against HPV to prevent infection and the associated cancers.” 

Giuliano and Moffitt’s CIIRC team have led the charge internationally for gender-neutral vaccination recommendations and policies. Findings from Giuliano’s Phase III HPV vaccine male efficacy trial resulted in gender-neutral vaccine policies globally, and her 2015 Phase II HPV vaccine study in mid-adult males supported the licensure to extend the age range for vaccination to 45 years for both men and women.    

Giuliano is now preparing to launch a National Cancer Institute-funded Phase III trial to investigate the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccine in preventing persistent oral HPV infection, a precursor of oropharyngeal cancer, in men living with HIV in Latin America.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil 9 for the prevention of oropharyngeal and other head and neck cancers. The accelerated approval is based on preliminary data that will require additional clinical research. Giuliano will soon open enrollment at Moffitt for the Merck-sponsored Phase III trial supporting the FDA approval. Unvaccinated men ages 20 to 45 who are interested in the study can call 813-745-6996 or email mensresearch@moffitt.org

This article was guest written by Julie Rathwell, a research project specialist, and Kelly Maharaj, a research coordinator. Both are members of the Cancer Epidemiology Department at Moffitt.

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