HPV type 16 and 18, are implicated in cervical, anal and oropharyngeal cancers and it is estimated that around 8400 people each year are diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancers that might be caused by HPV.
HPV is very easily transmitted via genital contact and in a recent study published in the Journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, it has been shown that HPV can be spread via oral to oral and oral to genital contact.
Although there has been an effective vaccine ( Gardasil) which protects against the four most common types of HPV, 6, 11, 16 and 18, for well over 5 years, it has so far only been licensed for use in females. There is also another vaccine Cervarix that protects against type 16 and 18. In the UK HPV vaccination is given to schoolgirls from the age of 12. However adolescent boys and gay men have been excluded from this crucial vaccination. The question is why?
The very welcome, new recommendation is for all gay men or MSM ( men who have sex with men) from the age of 16, seen in sexual health clinics , to be vaccinated. The report states that this would be beneficial in reducing rates of cancer and also of genital warts.
In my personal opinion the recommendations should have gone further, so as to recommend HPV vaccination for all adolescent boys. It doesn’t make sense that it is just available for teenage girls whilst leaving boys unvaccinated. There has been a huge reduction in genital warts and associated problems, seen in Australia following the successful introduction of HPV vaccination in teenage boys and girls. This seems to me to be a sensible strategy to employ here in the UK.
Whilst I welcome the new recommendations, I feel it doesn’t go far enough, as there will still be a large proportion of the population who will remain unprotected. This doesn’t seem fair on them. In my practice I recommend HPV vaccination to all my patients, male and female and will continue to do so.