Did you know there’s a way to help avoid genital and anal warts as well as HPV-related cancers? All it takes is three simple vaccinations. And best of all, getting vaccinated against HPV is free for a limited time in some locations around the country.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus easily acquired through sex. In most cases, HPV is harmless and has no symptoms, but there are some types that can cause genital and anal warts, or even cancer.
Not even condoms provide total protection against HPV as skin around the genital area may also carry the virus, so getting vaccinated is a great way to maximise protection against it. And that’s especially important for guys who have sex with other guys as well as for guys living with HIV.
There are various types of HPV, but not all of them cause warts or cancer. Around 10 per cent of guys who have HPV will go on to develop visible warts. And although there’s no cure for HPV, the warts can be treated when they appear. The types of HPV that cause cancer can result in cancer of the anus, penis, tongue, throat or tonsils.
Guys who bottom are burdened with a higher risk of developing anal cancer than other men — around 50 times more likely. And guys living with HIV are also at increased risk — living with HIV means having HPV could be more severe, especially for people not on HIV treatment. Being on HIV treatment, with an undetectable viral load, and having a higher CD4 cell count (over 200) can help reduce the risk of developing HPV-related cancers.
Why vaccinate against HPV?
HPV vaccines have been safely used around the world for more than a decade in over 270 million doses.
Being vaccinated against HPV is important for two reasons:
- The HPV vaccine protects men from 90 per cent of HPV types that can cause cancers of the penis, anus and throat as well as helping protect against genital warts
- It’s difficult to stop HPV spreading without being vaccinated — this is because it’s really easy to get HPV from sexual contact, even when condoms are being used correctly every time you have sex
You can check out Why you should get vaccinated against HPV for more details.
It’s not too late to vaccinate
While the HPV vaccine is typically given to younger people before becoming sexually active, it’s still recommended for people who have already had some sexual contact.
All versions of the vaccine protect against non-cancer-causing HPV types, which cause 90 per cent of genital warts, as well as types that cause the majority of HPV-related cancers in men.
So even if you’ve been exposed to any of these types of HPV, getting vaccinated can still offer protection against any of the remaining types you haven’t been exposed to.
And did you know that thanks to the success of Australia’s HPV vaccination program, cervical cancer could be virtually eliminated as a public health problem in Australia within the next 20 years.
Where can I get vaccinated for free?
It’s great news for guys in some states and territories, though not all currently offer free vaccinations. Even if there’s no free program in your state or territory, there are still ways you can get vaccinated.
Here’s a run-down of HPV vaccination programs around the country:
Australian Capital Territory: No free HPV vaccinations available for adults
New South Wales: Free HPV vaccinations until December 31, 2018 for all men who have sex with men aged 20 to 34 years
Northern Territory: No free HPV vaccinations available for adults
Queensland: No free HPV vaccinations available for adults
South Australia: Free HPV vaccinations until July 31, 2019 for all men who have sex with men aged 20 to 26 years
Tasmania: No free HPV vaccinations available for adults
Victoria: Free HPV vaccinations until December 31, 2018 for all men who have sex with men aged up to 26 years
Western Australia: No free HPV vaccinations available for adults
For anyone not eligible to be vaccinated free of charge, buying the vaccines costs around $169 per dose, with three doses required to complete the vaccination over the course of six months. In some cases, it may be possible to claim some of the cost back from private health insurance.
So if you live in a state or territory offering a free vaccination program, it’s worth contacting your local doctor, sexual health service or LGBTI health organisation for details of how you can benefit.