HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) in the Western world. Could greater uptake of the HPV vaccine help curb growing cases of the cancer?

A study in the journal Infectious Agents and Cancer raises that question, explaining that few studies have examined the effect of HPV vaccination on OPC incidence in men. The authors hypothesize that pangender HPV vaccination could reduce the incidence of HPV-associated OPC.

Australian researchers conducted a review using Ovid Medline, Scopus, and Embase databases on October 22, 2021, investigating the effect of HPV vaccination on OPC prevalence in men; studies with vaccination data about men in the past 5 years were included.

Ultimately, seven studies were included in the meta-analysis, ranging from original research to systematic review articles. All studies were published in English from 2017 to 2021. “Overall, these suggested that HPV-vaccination reduced levels of oral HPV positivity in men,” the researchers explained. “This was thought to be indicative of a reduced risk of development of HPV-associated OPC. A limitation of this study was the inability to conduct meta-analysis due to the heterogeneity of included studies.”

The researchers suggested a significant impact on the reduction of HPV positivity post-HPV vaccination and a potential contribution to reducing the future incidence of OPC, adding, “This review makes a strong case for pangender HPV vaccination in combatting OPC in men.”

In an earlier study in the International Journal of Cancer from the study group, the authors wrote, “Human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) is increasing in incidence, yet very little is known about oral HPV infection in the general population.”

The Australian-based study assessed oral HPV prevalence according to HPV vaccination status. The 1,023 participants, who were aged 18 to 70 years, filled out a questionnaire about lifestyle and sexual behavior and donated a saliva sample in 2020 and 2021.

In the Oral Diversity Study, more than 900 participants returned a saliva sample for analysis and were included in the study. “The oral HPV prevalence was 7.2%, and was strongly associated with sexual behaviors,” the authors advised.

The researchers identified 27 different HPV types, finding that 53% of participants carried high-risk HPV types, with no difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated groups (53% both, P = .979).

With 230 participants (26%) vaccinated against HPV, the study found that the oral prevalence of the nine HPV types included in the nonavalent HPV vaccine was significantly lower in the vaccinated participants compared with the unvaccinated (0.9% vs. 3.4%; P = .022).

“These findings suggest that a sizeable minority of Australian residents harbor oral HPV infections, and many of these are high-risk subtypes,” the researchers concluded. “We found some evidence that HPV vaccination resulted in lower prevalence of oral HPV infections of vaccine-specific types. Larger surveys are required to confirm these findings.”

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