TAMPA: David Hastings is back to helping his wife Jo at their Cuban restaurant outside Saint Petersburg. He’s grateful to be here after a very close call.
“One morning I was shaving and I noticed this side of my neck was swollen,” Hastings explained.
The diagnosis: stage four oral cancer. Until then, David was a healthy non-smoker who exercised regularly. “Picture a male drinking and smoking everyday for years and years. That’s who gets my cancer. I kept saying people, that’s not me.”
It turns out David’s cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV, a virus he didn’t even know he carried.
Nancy: “So David’s case is not rare?”
Dr. Anna Giuliano: “No! Not at all!”
From her office at the Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, Dr. Anna Giuliano is leading an international study on HPV in men.
Right now the virus is best known for causing cervical cancer in women. But that is about to change.
“Cervical cancer is going down and HPV related head and neck cancer is going up,” she explained.
Dr. Giuliano says every year between 6 and 8 thousand head and neck cancers in men are HPV-related. “Now we have very definitive evidence that HPV causes cancer in men; the most important being head and neck cancers, penile cancer and anal cancer,” she told NBC2.
In October, the FDA approved the use of the HPV vaccine Gardasil in males ages 9-26. But Dr. Giuliano worries misinformation will keep young men from being vaccinated.
This government website collects complaints from young woman who’ve experienced side effects from Gardasil.
As of September 1st, 26 million doses were distributed and there were 15,037 complaints. 93% were not considered serious. Those side effects included fainting, pain and swelling at the injection site, headache, nausea, and fever.
Serious side effects included blood clots And 44 young women have died after receiving the vaccine.
But, experts say there is no pattern or evidence to suggest the deaths were caused by Gardasil. “In most cases, they are not verified cases,” said Dr. Giuliano.
She believes the vaccine is safe and vital to preventing cases like David’s. “The only way we have to prevent this cancer is by vaccinating males. We have no early detection, no screening, there’s nothing we can offer people. This would be it,” she said.
David is now an advocate for the vaccine. He’s not sure how he got HPV but he knows being vaccinated against it would’ve prevented the cancer that almost killed him.