Men's Openness to HPV Vaccine Could Bolster Impact of New FDA Decision, Reduce Cancer Deaths


Men are more willing to receive human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine when they learn the vaccine can prevent cancer, according to a recent University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill study. The research reinforces hopes that a related decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month will lead to fewer cases and deaths from anal cancer.

Until now, HPV vaccine was approved only for protection against cervical cancer and genital warts in females, and for genital warts in males. However, the FDA recently approved the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, to prevent anal cancer and associated precancerous lesions due to the virus in both males and females aged 9 to 26.

The UNC findings, published earlier by researchers at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, found that men are more open to getting HPV vaccine when it is described as also preventing HPV-related cancers, including anal cancer, as opposed to preventing genital warts alone. Researchers surveyed a national sample of more than 600 men aged 18-59 and asked about their willingness to get vaccinated. Sixty percent wanted the cancer-preventing vaccine, compared to 42 percent when the vaccine was depicted as only protecting against warts. The study, Does framing human papillomavirus vaccine as preventing cancer in men increase vaccine acceptability? appeared in the August 2010 issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Annie-Laurie McRee, a UNC doctoral student and lead author of the study, said the researchers hope their findings and the new FDA approval will promote HPV vaccination in boys and young men. Now that HPV vaccine is indicated for cancer prevention in males, its important for health-care providers and public health professionals to be aware of these findings, she said. Being able to promote the cancer prevention benefits of vaccination is especially important, in part because people perceive cancer to be more severe than other HPV-related diseases like warts.

The vaccine can potentially protect young men from strains of the virus that cause about 90 percent of anal cancers, as well as several other cancers and genital warts. However, few adolescent boys and young men in the United States who are eligible for the vaccine have initiated the three-dose vaccination series.

The FDA made a critical public health decision, says Noel T. Brewer, PhD, senior investigator on the study, UNC Lineberger member and assistant professor of health behavior and health education in the public health school. Now that HPV vaccine can prevent anal cancer, I believe it will motivate men to get the vaccine and decrease cancer deaths.

Along with Brewer and McRee, other study co-authors were Paul L. Reiter, a postdoctoral fellow at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Kim Chantala, a research data analyst in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Funding for the research came from the Investigator-Initiated Studies Program of Merck & Co. Inc., an HPV vaccine maker; the American Cancer Society; and the Cancer Control Education Program at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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