School boys will soon be given cancer vaccine

PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 July 2019

Parents advised to immunise children to prevent infection.

Parents advised to immunise children to prevent infection.

© Leah-Anne Thompson - all rights reserved. Please check your licence for grant of usage rights and usage limitations for this p

A vaccine that could prevent more than 100,000 cancers will be given to schoolboys across the country.

Girls have been offered the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine free from the NHS since 2008. And, from September this year so will boys in year 8.

HPV is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body - there are more than 100 types, with around 40 types of HPV infection affecting the genital area - which are common and highly contagious and can be spread during sexual activity.

- Worldwide, about five per cent of all cancers are linked to the HPV virus. This includes cervical, penile, anal and genital cancers and some cancers of the head and neck - all of which the vaccine helps to protect against.

- HPV is thought to be responsible for more than 90 per cent of cervical cancers, as well as 90 per cent of anal, about 70 per cent of vaginal and vulvar cancers and more than 60 per cent of penile cancers.

- Cervical cancer is currently the most common cancer in women under 35, killing around 850 women each year.

- Some types of HPV infections can cause genital warts - the most common viral sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England and abnormal tissue growth and other changes to cells within the cervix - this can sometimes lead to cervical cancer. Other types of HPV infection can cause minor problems, such as warts and verrucas

Since 2008, ten million doses of HPV vaccine have been given to young women in this country meaning over 80 per cent of women aged 15-24 have received the vaccine.

Since its introduction, infections of some types of HPV in 16-21 year old women have reduced by 86 per cent in England.

A Scottish study also showed that the vaccine has reduced pre-cancerous cervical disease in women by up to 71 per cent. Similarly, diagnoses of genital warts have declined by 90 per cent in 15-17 year old girls and 70 per cent in 15-17 year old boys due to the HPV vaccine.

Estimates suggest the vaccine programme, which will now include boys, will lead to the prevention of over 64,000 cervical cancers and nearly 50,000 non-cervical cancers by 2058. By this time, the teenagers being vaccinated now will be in the group that would typically be affected by HPV related cancers.

Dr Jonathan Roberts, consultant for Public Health England South West said: "Making it universal at ages 12-13 will mean that HPV-related diseases could be a thing of the past.

"By vaccinating boys, we not only protect them but also prevent more cases of HPV related cancers in girls.

"This is a life saving vaccine and I would encourage all eligible boys and girls to take up the NHS offer of the free vaccine."

Anna Hill from Bristol, who caught HPV at a young age, describes what having the virus meant for her: "I found out I had a positive borderline test for HPV after a smear when I was 16. This meant that every six months after, up until the age of 25, I had to have a further smear and cells removed to reduce the chance of cancer progressing.

"My last smear test came back normal and I have now returned to having three yearly smears. I think it is so important for women and boys to take up the HPV vaccine.

"I was unlucky to have caught the HPV virus at an early age but it is nothing to do with how many sexual partners you have as it only takes one person to become infected. I think it is great that men are now also being offered the HPV vaccine, to protect them and the women around them."

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "HPV does not discriminate.

"We can already see the vaccine's benefits among girls, and we look forward to seeing these fantastic results continue to grow."

Parents with children aged between 12 and 13 should look out for information from schools. If they miss out on the vaccination for any reason they should talk to their school nurse/immunisation team about getting the vaccine at a later date.

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