Health experts have recommended that boys should be immunised against the most common sexually transmitted virus, following recent figures reveal an alarming rise in cancer linked to oral sex in young men.
Cases of throat cancer have more than doubled to more than 1,000 a year since the mid 1990s. Previously the figure had been stable for many years. More than 70% of cases are caused by HPV, compared with less than a third a decade ago.
Since 2008 all girls aged 12 to 13 in the UK have been offered a vaccination to protect them from HPV. The decision not to give it to boys too was heavily criticised at the time.
Now specialists are urging the Department of Health to review its immunisation programme and offer boys the vaccine too. They say this would not only ensure both sexes are protected against throat cancer, but it would help reduce the risk of cervical cancer in girls and of other cancers caused by HPV.
Research suggests boys are more prone to get throat cancer from oral sex because the virus is found in higher concentrations in the female genital tract. Experts say oral sex is seen by teenagers as safer than sexual intercourse as carrying no risk of pregnancy or infections.
The Department of Health requested the latest figures from Professor Hisham Mehanna, director of the Institute of Head and Neck Studies in Coventry.
The Department of Health said vaccinating boys could not be justified on cost-benefit grounds – but that was before the scale of the rise in HPV-related throat cancer was known.
Professor Mehanna said ‘They asked for my data so they can look again at their assessment. There is definitely enough evidence to warrant looking at it again. The question is whether the new figures make it cost-effective [to extend the vaccination to boys].’