'Universal HPV vaccination' call

Boy being vaccinated
Image caption Should boys be given the HPV vaccine too?

Schoolboys in the UK should receive the HPV vaccine to protect against throat cancer, a charity has urged.

The jab was introduced in 2008 for girls, to immunise them against the virus that causes cervical cancer.

The Throat Cancer Foundation says the vaccine protects against other cancers and has urged the government to extend the programme to all 12-year-olds.

So far Australia is the only country to routinely offer universal vaccination to boys and girls.

The measure has also been recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control.

HPV, which stands for human papillomavirus, is a very common, mainly sexually transmitted, infection.

The vaccine currently used in the UK protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, and types six and 11, which cause genital warts in males and females.

But HPV has also been linked, although less strongly, with other cancers including oropharyngeal - or throat - cancer.

'Ticking timebomb'

The charity said the vaccine would cost as little as £45 per person and could save hundreds of lives. It estimated that treating throat cancer costs the NHS as much as £45,000 per patient.

Prof Christopher Nutting, lead clinician of the head and neck unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: "We are seeing a rising number of cases of throat cancer in our clinics in the UK.

"At the moment girls are routinely vaccinated against HPV but boys are not, meaning they are routinely being exposed to a virus that can cause life threatening cancers."

He added that evidence from Australia, where a national programme had led to a 90% drop in cases of genital warts in men and women, showed the vaccine is effective.

Jamie Rae, head of the Throat Cancer Foundation, called the disease a "ticking time bomb" and said the current girl-only vaccination programme was discriminatory.

Prof Simon Rogers, consultant maxillofacial surgeon at the University Hospital Aintree, said: "The burden of HPV puts a substantial strain on the NHS, in terms of both cost and resources.

"If current trends continue unchecked, cases of HPV and oropharyngeal cancer will exceed cases of cervical cancer by 2020."

A Department of Health representative said: "There are currently no plans to extend HPV vaccination to males, based on an assessment of available scientific evidence.

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

"Eighty per cent coverage for the full course of three doses of the vaccine was achieved in the first year of the HPV vaccination programme in 2008-09, and has since exceeded that level."

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