Guarding boys with Gardasil?

The debate over giving boys the HPV vaccine continues. Plus, more good cancer-prevention news.

Published May 18, 2007 6:20PM (EDT)

Today the Washington Post revived the debate over whether boys should receive the HPV vaccine Gardasil -- which still hasn't been proven to actually work on boys. (In the meantime, several states are still struggling over mandating the vaccine for the only population we're sure it works on: girls.)

Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecological cancers at the American Cancer Society, questions the cost-effectiveness of vaccinating boys (remember, the Gardasil vaccine is a whopping $360 a pop) to battle HPV-caused cervical cancer. "[I]f most of the female population ends up getting vaccinated, then vaccinating boys won't add very much," Saslow argued. (Of course, mandatory vaccination -- or, considering the cost, even widespread voluntary vaccination -- among the female population is hardly a slam dunk.)

But I have to side with Dr. Michael Bookman, director of medical gynecologic oncology at Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer Center. "This is a viral infectious process, and the majority of the time it is passed through heterosexual contact," he told the Post. "And I think it's important to consider boys as equal players in that process." And HPV's threat is hardly limited to cervical cancer -- it causes other types of cancers in both men and women. HPV "is by far the leading cause of throat cancer, which strikes 11,000 American men and women each year ... [and] also a major cause of anal cancer and genital warts, both of which affect either sex," reports the Post.

Well, alrighty then -- what's the question? Pending proof that the vaccine is actually effective in preventing HPV in boys, why shouldn't it be recommended for both sexes? Now, mandating the vaccine for both sexes is a whole 'nother debate...

Leaving the good news for last, the Post also reported today that the HPV vaccine prevents vulval and vaginal cancers. "It's very hard for a lot of people to recognize that we can actually prevent cancer, and it's very hard for people to recognize that certain types of cancer are sexually transmitted," said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System. "I would recommend it for my daughters and anybody else's daughters."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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