The Mouth Cancer Foundation, while welcoming the government’s introduction of a human papilloma virus (HPV) immunisation programme for girls aged 12-13 against cervical cancer, is concerned that boys are not being vaccinated.
This decision follows the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which, based on a detailed review of evidence surrounding HPV vaccination, did not consider it to be cost-effective in preventing cervical cancer.
But according to an article recently published in the British Journal of Cancer, researchers from Finland using mathematical models of human papillomavirus (HPV) type 16 virus infection to determine the optimal age to vaccinate individuals as well as different approaches to introducing the vaccine into the general population concluded that:
• Vaccination generates the greatest long-term benefit when administered prior to the first sexual contact
• Vaccination of males as well as females has a greater impact when administered at an early age.
A statement from the Mouth Cancer Foundation read: ‘What about the vaccine’s cost-effectiveness in preventing anal and throat cancers, plus genital warts, among boys?
‘While males cannot get HPV-linked cervical cancer, they make up half of the equation when it comes to spreading the sexually transmitted virus. This is a viral infectious process, and the majority of the time it is passed through heterosexual contact. Men can pass on the virus to their sexual partners, so it makes sense to vaccinate boys against HPV, and it would also protect them from throat cancer.
‘The virus is also a leading cause of throat cancer, which affects both sexes. Recent mounting evidence is confirming that infection with HPV via oral sex is by far the leading cause of throat cancer. This threat of throat cancer is especially troubling because doctors traditionally only look for these malignancies in long-time smokers and drinkers. And while girls and women typically see a gynecologist for their Pap smear to look for cervical cancer, not many boys and men are going to go to a doctor and ask them to look at their throat.
‘We strongly believe that in a younger population of non-smoking mouth cancer patients, that HPV will present itself as the dominant causative factor. Anyone old enough to have engaged in sexual behaviours which are capable of transferring this very ubiquitous virus are at risk. For this reason we are concerned that boys are not being vaccinated.’
‘It is hoped that the new cervical cancer vaccines approved for use in pre-sexual individuals for the prevention of cervical cancer being developed and marketed by Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, will have a positive collateral impact in the world of head and neck/mouth cancers in the next couple of decades, as these young, vaccinated individuals do not develop HPV related malignancies in sites far removed from the cervix. The Mouth Cancer Foundation is a strong supporter of the use of the vaccines, and encourages their use in young males as well as females. The foundation has written to the Secretary of State expressing this viewpoint.’