Noting that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has proven to be an effective weapon in cancer prevention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended in October that 11- and 12-year-old boys be vaccinated with Merck's Gardasil. In addition, the panel advised that boys and young men ages 13 to 21 be immunized with the vaccine if they have not already had all 3 doses. The vaccine was approved for use in males in 2009.

The new guidance parallels the ACIP's 2006 recommendation that 11- and 12-year-old girls receive the vaccine, as well as teen girls and young women up to age 26 who haven't already received it.

Every year in the United States, about 18,000 women develop cancer—most often cervical cancer—due to HPV, says the CDC. About 7,000 men develop HPV-associated cancer, with cancers of the head and neck being the most common. HPV also causes about 6,000 total cases of anal cancer a year in men and women. Gardasil targets the 4 types of HPV that cause most of these cancers.

Vaccinating girls and boys against HPV has been controversial because the virus is transmitted during sexual contact. However, Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, notes that the vaccine is most effective when it is given prior to any exposure to the virus.

Schuchat stresses that the ACIP conducted a careful, extensive review of data collected over the past few years before making its recommendation, including data from an international clinical trial showing that the vaccine was safe and effective in preventing anal cancer in gay men (N Engl J Med 2011;365:1576–85).

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