A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that GARDASIL®, the quadrivalent human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which is currently administered for cervical cancer prevention in women, is demonstrated to be effective in preventing anal cancer in men, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM). In the double-blind study, researchers administered either the qHPV vaccine or placebo to over 3000 men, of which around 600 were MSM, and subsequently monitored the subjects over the course of 36 months. The statistically significant results showed that the vaccine lowered HPV infection by 50 to 60 percent.
David Chhieng, Yale Professor of Pathology at the Yale Cancer Center, specializes in clinical studies of HPV and genital cancers, including cervical cancer. He believes that while anal cancer is rare among the general population, the cancer’s high occurrence among the at-risk population makes this latest preventative development – at least in the short run – quite important. In terms of long-term functionality, however, there are some limitations. He believes that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the efficacy of preventative measures that focus on cancer because it often takes several decades for the cancerous condition to appear. “Theoretically [the vaccine] should help,” Chhieng notes. “Even though eliminating 90 percent is really good, there is still that 10 percent. And once you get rid of the common course of the disease, who knows what will happen to the other types of HPV – will they become more prevalent? Nobody knows.”