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HPV vaccine reduces the risks of cancer for men and women


A new, large cohort study provides some of the best evidence that the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine reduces cancer risks in both men and women. As I have written before, there are very few things that you can do to reduce your cancer risks, but the HPV vaccine is one of them.

As I usually do, I will first give a background on human papillomavirus and the HPV vaccine, and then I will review the key results from the study.

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All about HPV and HPV vaccines

I know I cut and paste this section to every article I write about HPV vaccines, but it’s the first step to HPV vaccine myth debunking. Some readers may be coming here for the first time and should know how the HPV vaccine lowers cancer risks. 

However, I try to update this section when necessary with new information about either the disease or the vaccine. If you’ve read this section 47 times, skip to the next section where I discuss the key point of this article.

Genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA.  HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

It’s important to note that there are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans – however, only 40 of these strains are linked to one or more different cancers. Of those 40 strains, most are fairly rare.

Although the early symptoms of HPV infections aren’t serious and many HPV infections resolve themselves without long-term harm, HPV infections are causally linked to many types of cancers in men and women. According to current medical research, here are some of the cancers that are linked to HPV:

In addition, there is some evidence that HPV infections are causally linked to skin and prostate cancers. The link to skin cancer is still preliminary, but there is much stronger evidence that HPV is linked to many prostate cancers.

HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco in that respect. According to published research, roughly 42 million persons in the USA are infected with disease-associated HPV, and 13 million persons acquire a new infection each year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. The CDC states that over 37,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year. It is probably several times that amount worldwide.

There were two HPV vaccines on the world market before 2014. GSK, also known as GlaxoSmithKline, produced Cervarix, a bivalent (protects against two HPV strains) vaccine. It has been withdrawn from the US market (although available in many other markets), because of the competition from the quadrivalent (immunizes against four different HPV strains) and 9-valent (against nine HPV strains) Gardasil vaccines.

Merck manufactures Gardasil, probably the most popular HPV vaccine in the world. The first version of the vaccine, quadrivalent Gardasil, targets the two HPV genotypes known to cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two other HPV genotypes that cause genital warts. In Europe and other markets, Gardasil is known as Silgard.

The newer Gardasil 9, approved by the FDA in 2014, is a 9-valent vaccine, protecting against HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. It targets the four HPV strains found in the quadrivalent version, along with five additional ones that are linked to cervical and other HPV-related cancers. Both versions of Gardasil are prophylactic, meant to be given to females or males before they become exposed to possible HPV infection through intimate contact.

Gardasil is one of the easiest and best ways to prevent a few dangerous and, to abuse the definition slightly, common cancers that afflict men and women. Without a doubt, the HPV vaccine prevents cancer.

Currently, in the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that preteen girls and boys aged 11 or 12 be vaccinated against HPV. The HPV vaccine is also recommended for teenage girls and young women up to the age of 26 who did not receive it when they were younger, and teenage boys and young men up to the age of 21.

Let me sum this all up so that you get this summary if you leave this section with nothing else. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. HPV causes 37,000 cancers a year in the USA alone. The HPV vaccine prevents one from becoming infected by HPV, which means you are protected from these cancers.

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HPV vaccine and cancer risks study

In a study presented on 24 May 2024 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, Jefferson DeKloe, BS, a medical student at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and research fellow at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and colleagues reviewed the medical records of 760,540 HPV-vaccinated men and 945,999 HPV-vaccinated women in the TriNetX Network database. They looked for the incidence of head and neck, cervix, anus/anal canal, penis, vulva, and vagina cancers. Additionally, women with no history of cervical dysplasia were followed for atypical cytology in Pap tests.

The key findings of this study were:

  • Vaccination reduced the risk of head and neck cancer and all HPV-associated cancers in men by more than 54% compared to unvaccinated men.
  • Vaccination reduced the risk of cervical cancer by 29%, cervical cancer precursor lesions by 50-60%, and all HPV-related cancers in women by 27%, all compared to unvaccinated women.
  • Vaccination reduced the risk of head and neck cancer in women by 33%, although this was not statistically significant.
  • HPV vaccination was associated with a 58% reduction in the risk for all abnormalities found by Pap smear.

Dekloe said:

The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent infection. Our study showed that patients under the age of 40 who were vaccinated for HPV usually have lower rates of cancer that are typically caused by HPV, including oropharyngeal cancer and cervical cancer.

Summary

This study was presented at the ASCO meeting in a briefing, so it has not been peer-reviewed. It may take several months before the findings are published in a reputable journal.

However, the large size of the study using the TriNetX database provides convincing evidence that the HPV vaccine is very effective in reducing the risk of a large number of human papillomavirus-related cancers in both men and women. Contrary to the claims of people like Robert F Kennedy Jr, the HPV vaccine is incredibly safe as shown in numerous large cohort studies.

The HPV vaccine is a true cancer-preventing vaccine that can save the lives of young men and women.

Citations

Michael Simpson

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