An influential Federal Advisory Committee in the USA has voted to recommend that boys aged 11 and 12 are vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
The recommendation follows growing evidence that the vaccination will protect young men from a variety of cancers including mouth cancer.
Girls in the USA and UK, around the ages of 11 and 12, are already offered the HPV vaccination to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
In recent years, HPV has been increasingly linked to other medical conditions especially affecting young men including mouth, neck, penile and anal cancers.
Previously, experts in the USA and UK have been undecided about the justification for a population-wide vaccination programme because of the costs involved.
However, members of the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)’ in the USA have now issued a formal recommendation that the vaccination should be extended to boys and young men.
The Committee has updated its position on the issue based on a growing body of evidence to support the health benefits of the vaccination.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but awareness is significantly lower than other common STIs.
Last year, a total of 482,696 new STI cases were reported in the UK(5). It is thought that at least 50 per cent of sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives.
In the USA alone, it is estimated that around 20 million people are infected with HPV each year and around 7,000 HPV associated cancers affecting men. Some of the latest research in the USA suggests that vaccinating young men prevents 90% of genital warts.
Other evidence indicates it is 75% effective in preventing anal cancers amongst gay men.
The HPV vaccination of young men is being backed by the British Dental Health Foundation, which believes HPV is one of the causes of the growing number of mouth cancer cases in the UK. Since 1997 the number of mouth cancer cases has grown by nearly 46 per cent. The Foundation estimates that 60,000 people will be diagnosed with mouth cancer over the next decade.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: The HPV vaccination issue is a sensitive and complicated topic both in the UK and US. The topic requires recognition that that more and more people are now at risk of certain types of cancers as lifestyles have changed over time, including sexual practice.
The evidence suggests that HPV, transmitted by oral sex, is a growing cause of mouth cancer in men. Without early detection, one in two people die from mouth cancer so prevention is crucial. A vaccination programme, similar to the programme for girls introduced in 2008, would be a positive step to reduce ever increasing mouth cancer incidence rates.
The body of evidence and opinion in the USA suggests a population-wide HPV vaccination programme is now the best solution – for general public health and financial reasons. It is a debate that needs to be opened again here in the UK, as part of the ongoing debate about the health and well-being of young people.
Throughout November, leading oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation is running Mouth Cancer Action Month, to raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of mouth cancer. For more information visit: www.mouthcancer.org