For a few years now, Human Papillomavirus, or HPV as it is more commonly known as, has been on my radar because of the link between some types of HPV and cancer. As a queer man who has fucked a lot of men (cis and trans) and most of it bareback, I’m at a higher risk of HPV because there are higher rates of HPV and HPV-related cancer among gay, bi and queer men. Living with HIV also places me at higher risk of cancer.

I haven’t been vaccinated for HPV. At 34, I was too old to have received the vaccine in high school. Recently the vaccine has been recommended for gay and bisexual men. There’s talk about the potential protective effects of a vaccine for people living with HIV (PLHIV) who’re already sexually active.

With over 100 different types of HPV, it’s possible that many of us have been exposed to HPV through sex (oral, front hole and/or anal). While only some of HPV types could lead to cancer, I wondered what I can do to reduce my risk of HPV-related cancer, and explored my options for a vaccine?

Sexual health clinics in New South Wales are giving gay, bi and queer men aged 34 or under free vaccines using the quadrivalent, which protects against the four most common cancer-causing HPV types. Earlier this year, a new nine-valent vaccine was made available in Australia which protects against nine most common cancer-causing HPV types. Unfortunately, the nine-valent is not subsidised and costs about $170 per injection (a total of three injections are required over a six-month period, like the hepatitis B vaccine).

I had a conversation with my HIV-specialist about my thoughts and I asked for a digital anorectal examination (or DARE). A DARE is about checking for irregular lumps or bumps in my anus. This is one practical thing I can do myself or ask my lover, GP or HIV specialist to do on a semi-regular basis to check for any changes. If detected early, any lumps that could lead to cancer are easier to treat and less invasive comparted to later detection.

Last week I started the nine-valent vaccine – what I consider a small investment in my future health. I’ll have the next shot in two months’ time and then the final shot four months after that. I am glad to have decided to put my health first and consider how living with HIV could impact upon my health in the long-term.

If you want to speak to a peer to explore your options to look after your health, you can always call Positive Life and speak to our Treatments Officer or one of our Peer Support team on (02) 9206-2177, 1800 245 677 (freecall) or email contact@positivelife.org.au.

This article was also published in the Star Observer, December 2018 edition.

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