Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common viral sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world. HPV is the same virus that causes cancer of the cervix in women and is the most common cause of anal cancer.
Do a lot of men have HPV?
Yes, at some point in their lives:
- At least 50% of all sexually active men acquire HPV
- More than 65% of HIV negative gay men acquire HPV
- More than 90% of HIV positive gay men acquire HPV
HPV infection can persist and develop abnormal changes in the tissues (called dysplasia or pre-cancer); some dysplasia can progress to cancer. In HIV-positive MSM, the rates of anal HPV infection are very high and the rates of anal cancer are over 100 times the rate in the general population. Unfortunately, by the time men present with symptoms that suggest anal cancer, the cancer is often quite advanced and not easily treated. Thus, detection of pre-cancerous anal changes is best to prevent anal cancer.
There is no agreement on how best to detect and manage the anal pre-cancers. There are no routine screening programs or guidelines and there is no consensus on how best to diagnose these changes in the anus. There are only a handful of physicians in Canada trained to do detection and treatment of HPV-related pre-cancers. The HPV-SAVE study will contribute to the evidence pool on how to detect and treat anal pre-cancers.