HPV: leading cause of certain cancers in men at any age

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A common sexually-transmitted virus known for causing cancer in women is also affecting men at any age. The Human Papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is becoming the leading cause of head and neck cancer in men.

At 60 years old, Mike Smith is recovering from the biggest scare of his life: throat cancer. But the Liberty, MO., native said how he developed cancer is shocking.

"I didn't know what HPV was. I had to look it up online," he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the United States-- most sexually active people will have it at some point in their lives.

While most strands of the virus can go away by themselves, some can lead to cancer.

"It's one of the highest rates of increase in head and neck cancer that we've seen in many years," Terance Tsue of the University of Kansas Cancer Center said.

While most information about HPV is marketed to women, doctors said more men are seeing the ugly side effects of the virus.

"When we see them and they have a mass in their neck, we look in the back of their throat and we're able to find where this thing came from," Dr. Tsue said.

Women can get tested for HPV during their annual Pap test but doctors say there is no approved test for men and that the best protection is contraception or the HPV vaccine.

This week, the Kansas City Health Department announced it will give out free vaccines to about 600 people. However, the vaccine is only effective for males and females between the ages of 19 and 25.

"Since the vaccine is relatively new and for people in their 30s and 40s and 50s, the vaccine wasn't approved then, we're still playing catch up," Dr. Tsue said.

Playing catch up means there are more people like Mike Smith, and for Smith, that means more men need to listen up.

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