A new group has called on the Government to safeguard half the population's health and introduce the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for boys.
HPV Action (HPVA) have finalised a petition calling on health secretary Jeremy Hunt MP to introduce the vaccination, a move that could also have widespread oral health benefits.
Around one in five cases of mouth cancer are predicted to be as a result of HPV with experts forecasting it will overtake tobacco use as the main risk factor for mouth cancer within the next decade, one of the few cancer varieties on the increase.
A study published in Cancer Prevention Research (Bui et al, 2013), showed HPV, transmitted via oral sex, was found to be associated with gum disease, tooth loss and other dental problems.
The study also found that those who said they had poor oral health, had more than twice the number of HPV infections (56%), a number similar to those who had gum disease (51%).
Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said: ‘Mouth cancer cases have increased by 50% since the millennium and much of this increase can be attributed to HPV.
‘Twice as many males as females suffer from mouth cancer, a condition that has both poor survival rates and huge impact on quality of life for sufferers.
‘The HPV vaccination of young men has already started in Austria, Australia and the USA, and the British Dental Health Foundation is calling for the same to happen in the UK.
‘A wealth of evidence and opinion in the USA suggests a population-wide HPV vaccination programme is now the best solution, both for general public health and financial reasons.’
Cases of mouth cancer have doubled in the last 30 years, yet our awareness and understanding of the virus is alarmingly low.
Reducing the prevalence of HPV could also help to improve general oral health.
Peter Baker, HPVA campaign director said: ‘For a cost equivalent to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s salary, about £24 million a year, we can protect 367,000 boys a year against the future risk of a range of cancers as well as the very common problem of genital warts.
‘Vaccinating girls alone is not enough to tackle HPV, men can still get the virus from unvaccinated women from the UK and other countries or from other men.
‘It is simply unfair to deny boys in the UK the same level of protection as girls or as boys in Australia and other countries where both sexes are now routinely vaccinated.
‘HPV vaccination is one of the easiest ways of preventing cancer.’
To sign the petition you can visit www.change.org/petitions/jeremy-hunt-uk-health-secretary-introduce-hpv-vaccination-for-boys-to-stop-many-preventable-cancers-3. Alternatively you can donate to support HPVA work via www.justgiving.com/HPVAction.
Bui, T., Markham, C., Ross, M. and Mullen, P. (2013) Examining the Association between Oral Health and Oral HPV Infection, Cancer Prev Res; doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-13-0081