Researchers from the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Homerton University Hospital, and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, have recommended that young gay men be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
This because their risk, the researchers say, of developing anal cancer ﾖ caused by HPV ﾖ is more than 15 times higher than it is among straight men.
The vaccine against HPV has traditionally been given to young girls to avoid cervical cancer but the virus is also linked to penile, anal and throat cancers, as well as genital and anal warts.
A number of countries, such as the UK, have vaccination programmes against HPV infection among girls on the grounds that this would curb the spread of the infection to boys as well.
The logic, however does not apply to gay men. Data from Australia show that while HPV vaccination of girls has had an impact on the prevalence of genital warts in straight men, there has been no such change in prevalence among gay men.
Recent research has shown that the HPV jab is effective in men, including gay men. The vaccine covers HPV 16 and 18, the two strains of the virus which account for most of the cancers associated with the infection.
“In the light of this evidence, and in the absence of universal vaccination of boys, the argument for introducing targeted HPV vaccination for [men who have sex with men] up to age 26 years is strong,” the researchers said in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.
In January, the British Medical Association (BMA) also called for young gay men to be given the HPV vaccine.
In February this year, Australia extended its school based HPV vaccination programme to all 12 to 13-year-old boys, with a catch up programme for 14 to 15-year-olds.
In South Africa, the vaccine is not given to boys in the public health sector but it can be provided to young gay men by a private doctor, if requested. Vaccinating against HPV should ideally take place before a person becomes sexually active.