Editor's note: Anderson wrote this column in response to "HPV and me."
Until a few months ago, all I knew about HPV is it can cause cervical cancer in women, so my wife had our then-teenage daughters vaccinated against it.
I remember joking, "Another reason I'm glad I'm not a woman." Well, that joke came to roost for me in June when I learned I have throat cancer caused by HPV.
My first reaction was "Cancer—no way." I've done everything right. I eat right, I work out regularly, I don't smoke and I drink moderately, so how can this be?
My second reaction was "I thought HPV only affected girls."
Not so. More testing confirmed I was part of a growing category of men classified as HPV positive: nonsmokers suffering from oral cancers (typically base of tongue or tonsil). In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I'm one of 5,600 men who get oral cancer from HPV each year.
HPV is sneaky. Most carriers don't know they have it and pass it onto their partners unknowingly. HPV is easily transmitted, and it only takes skin-to-skin contact in the right places to pass it on. HPV doesn't discriminate. It affects people regardless of their sexual orientation, and you don't need to be promiscuous or have an outlandish sex life to contract it.
HPV doesn't always turn into cancer, but according to the CDC, 12,000 women and 7,500 men get cancer from HPV each year. For my peer group, men 40 to 50 years old, the ship has sailed, but there is still time to protect your children.
This is where YOU come in. Now that you know better, you owe it to your kids to do better. Knowledge and action are the keys to protecting your children, so talk to your doctor about HPV. Learn how it's transmitted, how to detect it and, most important, how to prevent it.
Get your kids vaccinated as soon as possible. There are currently two vaccines on the market that are approved by the FDA for use with girls and boys. Both vaccines provide effective protection against the wide range of maladies caused by HPV—including the P16 strain that is linked to cervical cancer and my throat cancer—as long as they are administered before your children become sexually active.
More than 20 million people in the United States already have HPV, and another 6 million people contract it each year. Not all of these cases will turn into cancer, but the risk is such that you will probably know someone with cancer caused by HPV in your lifetime. Don't let this person be your child. Act now to protect your children today. The decisions they make tomorrow may affect them for the rest of their lives.