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No decision on extending a vaccine for mouth cancer

No decision will be taken until 2015 'at the earliest' on extending a vaccine to cut cases of mouth cancer to some men, a health minister has said.

During a commons debate, Jane Ellison faced warnings that the number of head and neck cancers – including of the mouth, lips and salivary glands – was approaching an 'epidemic'.

There is growing criticism that a national vaccination programme for the human papillomavirus (HPV) – for girls only, to prevent cervical cancer – is failing to create 'herd immunity'.

Therefore, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is examining whether to extend vaccination to 'men who have sex with men, to adolescent boys, or to both.'

But Ms Ellison played down hopes of a quick decision, telling MPs that the inquiry, which started on January 20, 'must be based on cost-effectiveness'.

The investigation would also await similar work being carried out by Public Health England and would involve 'extending an already big programme to a much larger group'.

Ms Ellison said: 'The decision on the vaccination of adolescent boys requires the development of complex models to determine whether or not it would be cost-effective.

'These models may identify a need to generate additional evidence and, therefore, a decision on vaccination of adolescent males is not likely before 2015 at the earliest.'

The debate was the third recent occasion on which take-up of the HPV virus has been raised by Sir Paul Beresford, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on dentistry.

Sir Paul has called for all boys to be immunised, arguing it is 'not fair, ethical or socially responsible to have a public health policy that leaves 50% of the population vulnerable to infection'.

The Conservative backbencher has also raised the alarm over the fact that 40% of girls are missing out on the vaccine, even in his wealthy Surrey constituency.

During the latest debate, Sir Paul warned of an 'epidemic' and pleaded for the full human and financial costs of cancer – £98m for oral cavity cancer alone, in 2011 – to be taken into account.

He said: 'I hope that the minister will be able to persuade the JCVI to broaden its horizons and to look at the human suffering, as well as the total costs of HPV to our national health service.'

Ms Ellison also stressed that dentists had a 'key role to play in the early detection of oral cancer,' which was part of their undergraduate training.

She added: 'A new patient pathway, currently being piloted in 94 practices, includes an oral health assessment, which requires dentists to examine the soft tissue of the mouth; assess a patient’s risk in relation to oral cancer; and offer advice on lifestyle changes.

'I am also pleased to say that the General Dental Council has confirmed that improving early detection of oral cancer is to be included as a recommended topic in its continuing professional development scheme.'

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