GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Cervarix vaccine prevented a viral infection that’s transmitted by oral sex and is linked to throat cancer such as the type Michael Douglas suffered from, a study found.
In a trial among 5,800 women in Costa Rica, there were 93 percent fewer oral infections with human papillomavirus, or HPV, among those who got Cervarix after four years than those who got a hepatitis A vaccine, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Plos One.
The finding is the first to show that a vaccine already approved to prevent cervical cancer caused by HPV infection can also prevent the virus being acquired orally, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which led the study. The virus is almost three times more common among men than women and men are four times more likely to get oropharyngeal cancer, leading to calls for boys to be routinely vaccinated against HPV as well as girls.
“If similar results are observed in men, vaccination of boys may become an important public health measure,” Rolando Herrero, who led the research at the Lyon, France-based IARC, said in a statement today.
Both Cervarix and Merck & Co.’s Gardasil are approved for girls, and Merck’s vaccine is also approved for boys. Neither is approved to prevent oral cancers.
The virus infects four out of five sexually active people at some point in their lives and is known to cause cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile and anal cancer. HPV may cause more cases of throat cancer in men than smoking, according to a 2011 report that predicted throat cancers linked to the virus would become more common than HPV-related cervical cancer by 2020.
About 10 percent of men are orally infected with HPV, compared with 3.6 percent of women, according to a 2012 study.
Douglas, 68, an Academy Award-winning actor and star of films including “Wall Street” and “Fatal Attraction,” was quoted by the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper last month as saying that his throat cancer, diagnosed in 2010, was caused by oral sex, not smoking or drinking.
Douglas said in an interview he’s now cancer-free, and has check-ups every six months, the Guardian reported.
Some countries have made the HPV vaccines available for boys as well as girls. In the U.S., where two-thirds of teenagers and young adults say they have had oral sex, the shots are recommended for boys ages 11 and 12. More than 280,000 boys in Australia will be eligible for free doses of Merck’s Gardasil this year, estimated to prevent a quarter of new HPV infections, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said in February.
The study was funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and London-based Glaxo provided the vaccines used in the trial.