In news that may have some people swearing eternal celibacy, an international team of scientists has estimated that almost one out of three men on Earth carries at least one variation of the human papillomavirus (HPV) — a common sexually transmitted infection that, depending on your luck, can either be harmless, spark an embarrassing round of genital warts, or cause cancer.
And most sobering, the team — led by Spanish researchers in Madrid and Barcelona — also found that around one in five men carry one or more of the HPV types that can cause various cancers. Long story short, this is not great public health news, especially when you consider that it's only looking at the incidence of one STI.
This study from The Lancet, Global Health is important because while the medical establishment has done significant work estimating the distribution and impact of HPV among women, there isn't as much information about the spread of HPV among the male population worldwide, according to the researchers.
The researchers uncovered these stark statistics by reviewing studies on the prevalence of male HPV genital warts published between January 1, 1995 and June 1, 2022. They honed in on "5,685 publications from database searches, of which 65 studies (comprising 44,769 men) were included from 35 countries."
After looking crunching the numbers, they estimated that 31 percent of the male population worldwide has any type of HPV, while 21 percent carry the HPV variations that are at high risk of turning into cancer. They also noted that "HPV prevalence was high in young adults, reaching a maximum between the ages of 25 years and 29 years, and stabilised or slightly decreased thereafter."
Women can find out if they have HPV during a pap smear test, in which a medical professional swabs the cervix to examine for any abnormal cellular growth.
Unfortunately for men, there's currently no test for HPV detection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That's bad, because HPV is serious business when it comes to cancer for both women and men, and yet half the population of the world (men) is flying blind. HPV is believed to be the biggest cause of cancer in the cervix, in addition to sparking cancer in the vulva, vagina, anus, head and neck in women. But it can also cause cancer in men as well, including in the penis, anus, head and neck.
Thankfully there is an HPV vaccine, which is recommended for children between the ages of 11 to 12, according to CDC, or starting as early as nine and up to 45 years old.
But men have historically lagged behind women in getting the vaccine against HPV, according to the CDC.
What's important about the study, besides uncovering the scope of its impact on men, is that it underlines that the burden of HPV prevention should not just fall on women, who have typically received the brunt of HPV vaccination and prevention messaging. Bottom line? Men should get the vaccine, too.
"These estimates emphasise the importance of incorporating men in comprehensive HPV prevention strategies to reduce HPV-related morbidity and mortality in men and ultimately achieve elimination of cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases," the researchers wrote.
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