Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature HPV Vaccine

Vaccine uptake and prevalence of HPV related cancers in US men

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 18 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1210
  1. Mara Kardas-Nelson, freelance journalist
  1. Berkeley, California, USA
  1. marajenn{at}

A vaccine can protect against cancerous strains of the leading STI in the US, so why aren’t more young men getting it? Mara Kardas-Nelson reports

In 2006 the US Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine made by Merck to protect against several cancer causing strains of the human papillomavirus, the nation’s number one sexually transmitted infection.12 Initially indicated only for girls and young women, in 2009 the vaccine was also approved for use in boys and young men. (In the UK the NHS provides an HPV vaccine for girls and for men who have sex with men.3)

Marketing approval of Merck’s vaccine was based on studies showing that it led to a reduction in precancerous lesions on the cervix in women and in anal pre-cancer in men who have sex with men. But while the vaccine protects against several cancer causing strains of the virus, clinical trials have yet to show that it protects against other pre-cancers related to HPV. The FDA therefore does not allow Merck to claim that the vaccine can protect against key morbidities such as oropharyngeal cancer linked to HPV. That’s so even though HPV related oropharyngeal cancers, which affect men more often than women, are on the rise in the US and on track to outpace the incidence of cervical cancer in a few years.4

HPV related cancers a threat

A study published in JAMA Oncology in 2017 said that “more than 9000 cases of HPV-related cancers occur in men annually, responsible for 63% of penile, 91% of anal, and 72% of oropharyngeal cancers.”4 A 2015 paper in Oral Oncology noted that “some estimates suggest that 70-90% of new oropharyngeal cancers have evidence of HPV.”5 Also on the rise are HPV related anal cancers, and HPV now beats tobacco use as the …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription