Ask the Dentist: Giving boys HPV vaccine would cut mouth cancer rates

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast, says it's high time boys in the UK were offered life-saving virus vaccines

Boys are offered the HPV vaccine in many countries but not in the UK despite the virus's links with mouth cancer
Lucy Stock

LEADING health charity the Oral Health Foundation has reiterated its call for the urgent introduction of a gender-neutral HPV vaccination in the UK in order to stop a rapid increase in mouth cancer cases.

Mouth cancer rates in the UK have risen by almost 300 per cent within the last three decades and are predicted to rise by more than a third again before 2035.

The charity believes an increase in human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is responsible for the alarming rise in mouth cancer and have branded the UK's current HPV vaccination programme as inadequate, unfair and discriminatory against males and putting millions of lives at risk. HPV is spread to the mouth via oral sex; HPV can also be responsible for causing cervical, vaginal, penile and anal cancer as well as genital warts.

Peter Baker, HPV Action Campaign Director, said: "A decision to vaccinate boys as well as girls against HPV is now long overdue. Boys in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Israel and the United States are offered the vaccine and the Italian government has just decided to do the same. It's unacceptable that boys in the UK are being left behind and exposed to the virus that causes 5 per cent of all cancers worldwide."

Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: "For far too long men have been excluded from being provided a simple and potentially lifesaving HPV vaccine and this will undoubtedly contribute to the enormous increase in mouth cancer cases.

"Girls have been offered a HPV vaccination though schools to protect against cervical cancer for almost a decade now and it has saved countless lives; the debate around a gender-neutral vaccination has continued for almost this long with no conclusion.

"Mouth cancer cases have rocketed to more than 7,500 cases each year in the UK over recent years and claims more than twice as many lives than testicular and cervical cancer combined. This cannot be allowed to continue."

It is estimated that it will cost about £20-24 million per year to extend the current UK HPV vaccination programme to include school-age boys in the UK. In comparison, treatment of HPV-related genital warts in men alone in the UK is estimated to be more than £32m a year, so there are potentially enormous savings to be made by the NHS through the introduction of a gender-neutral vaccine.

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