Around two-thirds of professionals who work in sexual health think the human papillomavirus (HPV) jab should be given to men who have sex with men. And around 14 per cent already give the vaccine to these men even though there are no GP guidelines available from NHS England.
This new research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, is the first study looking at healthcare professionals’ attitudes towards vaccinating men who have sex with men – a group who are at higher risk of anal cancer.
“We need to provide clear guidelines to healthcare professionals to make sure they receive adequate information and that men at high risk of HPV have equal access to the vaccine.” – Tom Nadarzynski, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
Although most healthcare professionals agreed this group should be vaccinated, 17 per cent thought it would be too late for sexually active men as they may already have been infected by the virus. And five per cent thought the jab could result in men not bothering to have safe sex as they would feel protected by the vaccine.
But more than half of the health professionals questioned said they lacked the knowledge or experience to offer the vaccine to gay and bisexual men.
The study was an electronic survey completed by 325 UK healthcare professionals who work in sexual health.
84 per cent of health professionals also thought that the HPV vaccine currently given to school girls should be extended to boys.
HPV infection is the main risk factor for anal cancer and is linked to an estimated 90 per cent of anal cancer cases in the UK.
There are around 1,200 new cases of anal cancer in the UK each year – that is around three people being diagnosed every day.
Lead author, Tom Nadarzynski, at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said: “Our study showed surprising differences in healthcare professionals’ views on vaccinating men against HPV. Some already gave the vaccine to men at high risk, while others opposed targeting men who had sex with men.
“We need to provide clear guidelines to healthcare professionals to make sure they receive adequate information and that men at high risk of HPV have equal access to the vaccine.”
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s interesting that some healthcare professionals are already vaccinating men at high risk of developing HPV-related cancers, as they aren’t protected by the vaccination programme for girls.
“Since this analysis, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that men who have sex with men are vaccinated. We hope that the Department of Health introduces the vaccine to protect men at a higher risk of HPV-related cancers – and gives healthcare professionals appropriate guidelines.”
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Nadarzynski, et al. ‘Sexual healthcare professionals’ views on HPV vaccination for men in the UK’. British Journal of Cancer, 2015. DOI: 10.1038/bjc.2015.403