Sexually Transmitted Infections

Does my son need to get the HPV vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend says that my young son should get the vaccine that protects girls against cervical cancer. That doesn't seem to make sense. Can you explain?

DEAR READER: Your friend is right, and here's why. The vaccine is against a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). There are more than 100 strains of HPV; about 40 of these strains can be transmitted by sexual contact. So-called low-risk strains cause genital warts. High-risk strains can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, penis and throat. I'll call these the HPV-related cancers. Not all of these cancers are caused only by HPV, but the virus is an important cause of each. Most cases of cervical cancer in women in the United States are caused by HPV.

Is it true that oral sex can cause throat cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A famous actor recently said he got throat cancer from oral sex. Could this be true?

DEAR READER: I assume you're referring to actor Michael Douglas, who recently divulged that his throat cancer could have been brought on by oral sex. He's right. Oral sex is a common way to become infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV), and HPV is a leading cause of mouth and throat cancers.

Do teenage boys also need the HPV vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 14-year-old daughter got the Gardasil vaccine, which protects her from cervical cancer caused by HPV. But boys can get HPV, too. Should my teenage son also get the vaccine?

DEAR READER: HPV stands for human papilloma virus. There are more than 100 strains of HPV; about 40 of these strains can be transmitted by sexual contact.

What should I know about living with genital herpes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a young woman recently diagnosed with genital herpes. The doctor says there's no cure. Can you give me some advice on how to live with this condition?

DEAR READER: I'd like to have a word or two with your doctor. Genital herpes is definitely a problem and not to be minimized, but the words "no cure" make it sound almost fatal.