LONDON, UK: The incidence of throat cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV)—one of the most difficult to diagnose and treat—in the UK has increased sharply. Men are twice as likely to be affected by HPV than women. Therefore, the British Dental Association (BDA), alongside partner organisations, has recently called upon the Department of Health and Social Care to extend the vaccination programme against HPV to boys.
With a gender-neutral approach to HPV vaccines on the agenda for the next meeting of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation dental leaders have written to Steve Brine, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care. In the letter, they expressed their strong support for universal vaccination against the virus. They further set out the case for blanket immunisation against HPV and asserted that it is morally indefensible to allow thousands of men to develop cancers that could be easily and cheaply prevented. The letter also suggests that withholding the vaccine from boys while immunising girls might constitute gender discrimination under equality law.
HPV has been linked to one in 20 cases of cancer in the UK, causing not only cervical cancer, but also cancers of the mouth and throat, penis and anus. Up to 80 per cent of sexually active people will be infected by HPV at some point in their lives.
“HPV-related cancers affecting the mouth and throat have a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives, so it’s frustrating for dentists, who are often the first to detect them, knowing how easily they could have been prevented. We urge the Government to consider the human as well as financial cost of these devastating but preventable diseases when making a decision on this issue. There is no logic—or fairness—in only protecting half of the population against this terrible virus. It is time for a universal vaccination programme,” said Dr Mick Armstrong, Chair of the BDA’s Principal Executive Committee.
“The current girls-only policy is costing lives and leaving 400,000 more boys needlessly unprotected with every passing year. The fight to reverse the increasing incidence of oral cancer hangs on the government’s decision, and we urge ministers to listen to the dentists and other health professionals who see the devastation that HPV-related cancers wreak on patients and their families,” stated Dr Mick Horton, Dean of the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK).