Human papillomavirus is a common infection that is a major cause of cervical cancer and oropharyngeal (oral or throat) cancer.

While the HPV vaccine is encouraged for both males and females ages 11 to 26, the vaccination rate for men remains low in the United States.

Recent research data illustrates that vaccinations may be just as important for men as they are for women, with an overall prevalence of HPV infection in men ages 18 to 59 years of 45.2 percent.

“The numbers were certainly not what we expected,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jasmine Han, chief of the Gynecologic Oncology Division and chair of the Scientific Review Committee at Womack Army Medical Center. “For women the infection risk for HPV goes down significantly after their mid-20s; it was always believed that the same held true for men. Now we’re seeing that the prevalence remains high for men, especially in their 20s and their 50s reaching 50 percent.”

The data Han examined was compiled as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which collected samples from a representative cross-section of the United States of men ages 18 to 59. Han’s findings will be published in JAMA Oncology, a peer-reviewed medical journal focusing on oncology research, opinions and reviews, this week.

“Before NHANES collected this data, there really wasn’t much information available about genital HPV infection prevalence in males,” said Han. “The effects had been studied extensively in females because of the connection to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer rates are actually decreasing, but we are seeing an increase in HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer, which is a cause for concern.”

Han said that like with many other viruses, individuals can be a carrier without even knowing it. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, meaning that those with the virus could potentially be putting their partner at risk for the types of cancer associated with HPV.

“Our study indicates that male HPV vaccination may have an even greater effect on cancer prevention and decreasing HPV infections,” said Han. “This means that we really need to focus on educating men on the importance of the vaccine and possibly further research extending the male vaccination age cut-off.”