Researchers making progress to create men's HPV vaccine

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HPV virusby Michael N. Westley

A vaccine that prevents the spread of the human papillomavirus (HPV) has been approved for women and promises to decrease the risk of cervical cancer.

But in the face of such an exciting announcement, one question remains: What about the guys?

Of course, men don't have cervixes, but they do contract and spread HPV, which can cause genital warts and in some cases, rectal cancer. Research also has shown that men are excellent carriers of the strain of HPV that causes cancer in women without developing any symptoms themselves.

The good news is that a vaccine for men may not be too far away, according to a Utah researcher.

John Kriesel of the University of Utah knows plenty about HPV. He has overseen the Utah portion of a worldwide study that included more than 11,000 subjects. He said the medical community has known there was a link between HPV and cervical cancer for about 15 years. He also said it's likely the vaccine currently used to treat women likely will work in men.

"There's no precedent for a vaccine that's given only to one sex," Kriesel said.

The Centers for Disease Control reports more than half of sexually active men will have HPV at some time in their lives. How long the virus sticks around is unknown but Kriesel said that in women, only about 5 percent of those who contract HPV continue having symptoms for more than three years.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 1,530 men will be diagnosed with penile cancer and 1,910 men will be diagnosed with anal cancer during 2006.

But while penile cancer only accounts for about 0.2 percent of all cancers in men, the benefits of the vaccine are clear: No genital warts and less transmission to sexual partners.

Doctors know of more than 100 wart viruses, said Kriesel, but only a handful of them cause disease. The virus is sneaky and highly evolved. It has been difficult to track because it doesn't grow in animals and it doesn't grow in cell cultures, Kriesel said.

But science is allowing doctors to treat and detect HPV much better in recent years. It's also bridging the gap between the sexes for medical screening.

While women have grown used to regular cancer screenings in their breasts and genitals, the latest trend for men with HPV is for long-term screening for anal cancer by way of pap smear to detect abnormal cells.

Looks like the guys are catching up.

source - The Salt Lake Tribune