Dentists, as well as many other medical professionals, have been campaigning for the Government to give boys aged between 12 and 13 in England the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV causes around 2500 cases of cancer in males every year in the UK, including the mouth, throat, anal, and penile cancers.
We are pleased to report that the UK Government’s scientific advisors have finally listened, and have recommended expansion of Human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination programme to cover school-age boys.
More than 30 people in Britain are diagnosed with oral cancers every day, with incidence rates increasing by 23% over the last decade. It is one of the fastest rising types of cancer and has a higher incidence among men.
This vaccine has been around for about a decade and has been routinely given to girls to reduce various types of genital cancer – predominantly cervical. Figures from Public Health England show that the rate of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in women aged between 16 to 21 who were vaccinated between 2010 and 2016 has fallen by 86 per cent. The same types of HPV that infect the genital areas can infect the mouth and throat.
Most unvaccinated people will be infected with some type of HPV at some time in their life. In most cases, the virus does not do any harm because their immune system clears the infection. But in some cases, the infection stays in the body for many years and then, for no apparent reason, it may start to cause damage.
What is HPV?
HPV is the name given to a very common group of viruses. There are many types of HPV, some of which are called “high risk” because they’re linked to the development of cancers. Other types can cause conditions like warts or verrucas. HPV infections do not usually cause any symptoms, and most people will not know they’re infected.
The leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer is from HPV, a very small number of oral cavity cancers also occur from HPV. The HPV family contains almost 200 strains, and it is one of the most common viruses. It is important to understand that of all these, only nine are associated with cancers. Of the nine that are high risk, only one is strongly associated with oropharyngeal cancer, HPV16.
How does the HPV vaccine work?
Currently, the national NHS HPV vaccination programme uses a vaccine called Gardasil.
Gardasil protects against 4 types of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Between them, types 16 and 18 are the cause of most cervical cancers in the UK (more than 70%).
HPV types 6 and 11 cause nearly all cases of genital warts (90%), so using Gardasil helps protect against some form of cancers and genital warts.
It’s important to understand that the HPV vaccination does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections.
Further reading can be found:
The Guardian -Teenage boys to be vaccinated against cancer-causing HPV
The Telegraph – HPV vaccine has almost wiped out infections in young women, figures show
NHS – HPV vaccine information