The virus that causes cervical cancer is human papillomavirus, or HPV. There are more than 100 different strains of HPV that cause a range of illnesses, from genital warts to cervical cancer. Most people infected with HPV, however, clear the infection on their own without any symptoms. The four most common strains in the United States that Gardasil is designed to prevent are 6, 11, 16 and 18. The latter two are those responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer in the United States and the former two for 92 of genital warts.
Unlike cervical cancer, genital warts are not limited to one gender. While genital warts don’t initially strike fear into our hearts with the same degree that cancer does, they are still not easily dismissed. Most people don’t shudder at the thought of genital warts because other strains of HPV also cause the warts often found on hands and feet that have no real health consequences outside of the unsightly inconvenience they provide. But genital warts are not entirely as benign as common warts. While most people are able to clear the infection on their own, strains 6 and 11 have been shown to be precursors to the development of anal and penile cancer.
There’s that scary cancer word again and linked to a body part unique to men. Admittedly, penile cancer is much rarer than cervical cancer — sorry, ladies — but warts don’t discriminate. Additionally, extending use of the vaccine to men will help shield women from acquiring the disease because it is, after all, a sexually transmitted infection. It only seems fair that both men and women should bear the responsibility for preventing cervical cancer because a man could acquire it from one partner, experience no symptoms himself and transmit the virus to his next partner unknowingly. HPV can be asymptomatic if it does not cause warts on the skin, so it is tricky for someone to know when they could be spreading the virus to their partners — which is why protection should be worn, even though condoms only cover the penis and leave skin-to-skin contact possible.