Anal cancer, a very rare condition, impacts gay men to a greater extent than heterosexuals (about 0.35% of gay men get anal cancer). The most significant contributor is infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that contributes to cervical cancer in women, causes genital warts, and is linked to some rare oral cancers in straight men. HPV is very common and most sexually active adults will be infected at some point in their life.
In October, the FDA approved the use of Gardasil, a vaccine, for males ages 9 through 26 for the prevention of genital warts. Now Merck has release testing results showing that the vaccine is significantly effective in the prevention of anal cancer in gay men.
Merck & Co., Inc. announced today that in new Phase III data, GARDASIL® [Human Papillomavirus Quadrivalent (Types 6, 11, 16 and 18) Vaccine, Recombinant] was 77.5 percent (95 percent CI: 39.6, 93.3) efficacious against anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN) associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6, 11, 16 and 18 in 16-to-26 year-old men who have sex with men.
In this PPE analysis, GARDASIL prevented 77.5 percent (95 percent CI: 39.6, 93.3) of HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18-related AIN and anal cancer. A total of 29 men were diagnosed with HPV 6, 11, 16 or 18-related AIN during the study, with 24 cases in the placebo group and five in the vaccine group. No cases of HPV 11 or 18-related AIN were observed in the vaccine group. No cases of anal cancer were seen in either the placebo or vaccine group.
Most sexually active adults have been or will be infected with HPV. In most cases, the infection goes away naturally. But Merck also found that the vaccine efficacious in preventing infection in women aged 27 to 45, a demographic that is not yet approved by the FDA. It is easy to surmise that the next step will be to test men in this age group with the eventual goal of marketing to everyone.
Although the odds are low of getting HPV related cancer, it is probably to the advantage of all women and gay men to reduce those odds even further by getting vaccinated, if possible. While this may not be covered by your insurance, the $360 for the three shots may save your life.