Genital warts anyone? I know, I know, this is not great dinner conversation, but really, welcome to my world. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the virus that causes warts. Yes, warts, as in those nasty growths you get on your fingers. Yeah, it turns out you can get those on your junk too….or your b-hole..or really anything in between.
So, here’s what you need to know…
There are about 40 different types of HPV that can infect the genital region. Most of us, by the time we are adults, have been exposed to HPV in our nether regions. As a matter of fact, it is the most common form of sexually transmitted infection. When you are exposed to genital HPV, one of three things can happen: A.) Your immune system can clear it…Yay! B.) It can cause a wart…Yuck! C.) It can causes changes at the cellular level that can one-day progress to cancer.
It is for this reason, women get regular check-ups of their cervix called a “pap smear.” During this process, a brush is dragged across the surface of their cervix to catch cells. These cells are analyzed in a lab to check for HPV and precancerous changes. In this way, precancerous cells can usually be treated early to prevent the development of cervical cancer.
In 2006, a vaccine was introduced which prevents two subtypes of HPV (16 & 18) that have been associated with cervical cancer. Over the years, the vaccine has been improved to be effective against an additional 7 strains of HPV associated with precancerous cells and genital warts. As it turns out these two nasty strains (16 & 18) are also responsible for the majority of anal cancers and some throat cancers. (Although we know that alcohol and tobacco certainly play a role in oral cancers.)
HPV prevention in men…
In 2009, the FDA, realizing that men had genitals too, approved Gardasil, the first HPV vaccination for men. Routine vaccination of boys for HPV did not start until 2011. It is now recommended that men who have not been vaccinated, get the vaccine up to age 26.
So, dear reader, while it’s certainly unpleasant to talk about genital warts, it’s even more unpleasant to talk about anal cancer. The CDC reports that men who have sex with me are about 17% more likely to get anal cancer than men who have sex with women. In addition, each year in the US, it is estimated that 5600 men will get HPV related oral cancers.
So, here’s what you need to do…
If you are a gay man under 26, make an appointment TODAY to get your first in a series of three Gardasil vaccines. THIS COULD SERIOUSLY SAVE YOUR LIFE, or prevent you from getting GROSS WARTS on your junk or b-hole.
If you CARE ABOUT a gay man under age 26, please forward this blog to them so they can get vaccinated.
If you have genital warts, go see your medical provider. She can freeze them off or prescribe a topical cream to make them go away. If you have multiple warts on your anus, you need to see a colorectal specialist who can look on the inside of your anus to evaluate for warts and make sure you don’t have pre-cancerous changes.
If you are HIV positive, your chances of getting anal cancer from HPV are even higher. Ask your doctor about anal cancer screening. After he looks at you with a blank stare, ask for a referral to a specialist who can do this type of screening.
Know that whether you physically see a wart or not, you could still have HPV and give it to your sexual partner. The best way to mitigate (but not eliminate) the risk of spreading HPV and other sexually transmitted infections is to always use a condom.