This is why boys should be getting the HPV vaccine

By Rhona Shennan
Tuesday, 25 June, 2019, 13:35
The new vaccine programme will include boys (Photo: Shutterstock)

New research has indicated that vaccinating boys against human papillomavirus (HPV) could cut the rates of men with cancers related to the virus in the long run.

Over the course of a two-year study of 235 patients in Scotland with head and neck cancer, HPV was found in 60 per cent of cases.

What did the study find?

In 1994, Scotland had 100 cases of head and neck cancer, but by 2015, this figure had more than tripled to the tune of 350 cases.

Kevin Pollock, from Glasgow Caledonian University, is one of the research co-authors and he states that cases of head and neck cancer have been increasing over the last 25 years, particularly among men.

Dr Pollock said: “Some of the reasons for this increase are due to alcohol and smoking, but we think the proportion of HPV-related head and neck cancers are increasing. This may be due to a change in sexual behaviours.”

The study revealed that 78 per cent of people suffering from head and neck cancers were men, and that HPV was present in 60 per cent of the cancers.

“This means the vaccine may reduce some of these cancers in the long term in Scotland,” Dr Pollock said.

He continued: “Not only that, but when we looked at the deprivation status of these cases - much like cervical cancer - head and neck cancers are disproportionately experienced by more deprived individuals.”

Dr Pollock said: “We know that smoking and alcohol consumption are linked to these cancers and policies are in place to try and reduce this consumption, but the great thing about a vaccine given to young boys is that if you give it early enough, and see a high uptake across all the deprived areas, you are reducing the inequality.”

Results reflect an earlier report

In April, a report was published by Dr Pollock and academics from Strathclyde, Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities, which suggested that routine vaccination of schoolgirls in Scotland with HPV has lead to a huge reduction in cervical disease later in life.

The researchers said that the vaccine has almost totally wiped out cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women since the immunisation programme was originally introduced ten years ago.

The study found that the vaccine had led to a 90 per cent reduction in pre-cancerous cells and that the effects of the programme have “exceeded expectations”.

Will boys start getting the vaccine?

The HPV immunisation programme for boys will be introduced in September across the UK.

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Girls have been receiving the jab since it was introduced in 2008.

What is HPV?

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states: “HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI).”

The NHS describes HPV as “a very common group of viruses” that do not cause problems for most people, but “some can cause genital warts or cancer”.

HPV affects the skin and there are over 100 types.

Many types of HPV affect the mouth, throat or genital area and the NHS warns that they’re very easy to catch.

You can get HPV from:

Any skin to skin contact of the genital areaVaginal, anal or oral sexSharing sex toys

HPV does not have any symptoms, so you might not know if you have it - the NHS says that “most people will get some type of HPV in their life”.

While HPV doesn’t cause any problems most of the time, it can cause some of the following:

Genital wartsAbnormal changes in the cells that can turn into cancer

HPV is linked to a variety of different cancers as well, including:

Cervical cancerAnal cancerCancer of the penisVulval cancerVaginal cancerSome types of head and neck cancer

For more information about HPV and the HPV vaccine, go to the NHS website.

This article originally appeared on our sister site Edinburgh Evening News