Sexual Health D&G

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GAY & BISEXUAL MEN - HPV and reducing risks from cancer

There are over 100 types of human papilloma virus (HPV) that infect the skin and mucous membranes. The majority of HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and infections usually resolve on their own. HPV infections which persist can lead to cancers, for example HPV types 16 and 18 cause the majority of HPV-associated cancers, notably anal, throat and penile in men and cervical cancer in women.

Other types of HPV such as 6 and 11 cause genital warts.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK. HPV is spread mainly by skin to skin contact. Genital HPV infections are highly contagious, and usually associated with sexual contact. Nearly all sexually active people get infected with HPV at some point in their lives. The risk increases with the number of sexual partners you and/or your partners have.

Condoms do not guarantee protection from infection. This is because HPV can be transmitted by skin contact with areas not covered by condoms.

The best way to be protected from HPV infection is to get vaccinated. Girls in Scotland have been vaccinated since 2008 and in September 2019 the vaccination programme was extended to every pupil in the first year of secondary school all regardless of gender. This is good news because MSM are disproportionately affected by HPV related cancers. For example rates of anal cancer are over 15 times greater in MSM than heterosexual men.  Vaccination is also available to men who have sex with men up to and including 45 years old from Sexual Health Clinics. It protects against the four HPV types (6, 11, 16 and 18) that are responsible for causing cancers and genital warts. When given over the age of 15 the vaccine course is three injections over 4-12 months.