Who would have thought we needed to study men for a cancer that targets women? Anna Giuliano, Ph.D., at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, is doing just that in an investigation concerning the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The study will determine men's involvement in the transmission of HPV, a virus that causes cervical cancer in women.
Over the four-year study, 3,000 men will be tested to determine if they develop antibodies against the virus. The goal? To learn whether both men and women should be immunized against HPV and at what age, Giuliano said.
Currently, HPV is responsible for 4,100 women's deaths each year from cervical cancer. Prolonged infections have also been shown to cause genital warts and infertility in some cases.
"We are a few years away from having a vaccine for women licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. We don't know if we need to vaccinate men," she said.
According to Giuliano, women in the United States have an advantage over those in developing countries because they have access to a good public health program and a U.S. investment of $6 billion in routine Pap smear screenings each year.
Unfortunately, Hispanic women do not have the same tools in fighting the disease, and early detection is not as common. In Latin America, 45 per 100,000 new cases of cervical cancer are discovered each year, compared with nine per 100,000 in the United States.
Almost 20 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population, are infected with HPV. Most often people don't develop symptoms, and the infection clears up on its own.
Estimates say at least half of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives. Giuliano and several public health groups have confidence that cervical cancer can be eradicated.
Two pharmaceutical companies, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, are currently testing vaccines against the virus. Moffitt is using Merck's vaccine in a separate HPV study.
Because there are no screening centers available to men, Giuliano's study will include a campaign to educate men about the disease. "We hope and believe that men are as committed to this effort as anybody else," Giuliano said.