Boys should get HPV cancer jab too, experts say

Public health bodies are calling for a universal vaccine for both girls and boys in the UK

Public and sexual health bodies are calling for boys to receive the HPV vaccine already offered to girls to protect them from cervical cancer.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is associated with different forms of cancer, including cancer of the penis, vagina and mouth, and spreads through sexual contact.

Girls aged 12-13 are offered the HPV vaccination whilst at school in the UK, but the Faculty of Public Health and the British Association for Sexual Health has said that boys should also be routinely offered the jab.

HPV vaccinations currently provide protection against the two most common strains of the virus, which can cause cervical and anal cancer. The existing vaccine Cervarix was replaced with Gardasil in September 2012, which also protects against genital warts.

Speaking to the BBC, Prof John Ashton, the head of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “It seems oral sex has become a very common part of the repertoire in young people and it does seem a likely part of the story of increases in oral cancer.

“We really need to discuss oral sex as part of sex education in schools and to look closely at extending the vaccine to all men.”

There are currently more than 1,000 cases of oropharyngeal cancer diagnosed a year, double the number of cases seen annually during the 1990s.

He said having a reduced cancer risk because of the vaccine would be particularly beneficial for gay men.

In February the Throat Cancer Charity called for a universal HPV vaccination and urged the Government to extend the programme to all 12-year-olds, as HPV has been linked to oral sex.

The British Medical Association joined the debate in January by writing  to Anna Soubry, minister for Health, urging her to introduce HPV vaccinations for young gay men attending sexual health clinics, warning that there is an “alarming increase in anal cancer in gay men”.

HPV vaccination with Gardasil, which also protects against genital warts, was introduced for girls in Australia in 2004 before being extended to boys in 2012. Australia is the only country to offer the vaccine to both girls and boys.

Despite numerous calls for a universal vaccine, the Department of Health has said it has no plans to extend the programme to boys, a decision they say is based on "an assessment of currently available scientific evidence".

“Vaccination of boys was not recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation because once 80 per cent coverage among girls has been achieved, there is little benefit in vaccinating boys to prevent cervical cancer in girls.”