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Every year in Britain, 2,000 men are diagnosed with cancers caused by the HPV virus. The sexually transmitted infection lies dormant, showing no signs or symptoms for years, often decades, until cancer cells start multiplying. At that point, tumours can be found in throats, penises, mouths, anuses, tonsils, and tongues.
A simple, highly effective vaccine exists. It’s just not given to boys. Instead, since 2008, girls aged 11–14 are given the jab, to prevent the virus triggering cervical cancer. These girls are protected for life, and so too are the boys who have sex with them. But gay and bisexual men – or indeed any man who has sex with another just once – can become infected.
Unlike HIV, a notoriously weak virus that condoms easily protect against, HPV is tough and highly infectious, often needing only skin-to-skin contact in the genital area to find a new host. Condoms are not enough. Years later, with the sufferer unaware of their condition, malignant growths come.
It isn’t only cancer. Huge clusters of warts – in particular anal and penile – can grow too. Treatment can take months or years, only for the warts to reappear. There is no cure for HPV, only a patchy management of symptoms.
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