Brighton expert’s research may support case for giving HPV jab to boys

Posted On 24 Jun 2019 at 8:57 pm

Research led by a Brighton expert suggests that giving boys a jab that is already given to girls could cut the rates of head and neck cancer in men.

Duncan Gilbert, a consultant oncologist at the Sussex Cancer Centre, led the study that indicated the benefits of vaccinating boys against HPV (human papillomavirus).

Girls receive the jab in school to protect them against cervical cancer but HPV is also associated with head and neck cancers which are on the increase.

The research by Dr Gilbert was funded by Cancer Research UK and was published in the Clinical Oncology medical journal. It involved colleagues from Glasgow University, Glasgow Caledonian University and Strathclyde University.

The two-year study looked at 235 patients in Scotland with head and neck cancer found HPV in 60 per cent of cases.

Dr Gilbert’s co-author Kevin Pollock, of Glasgow Caledonian University, said that head and neck cancer had been increasing over the past 25 years, particularly among men.

He has been quoted in news reports saying that in 1994 there were 100 cases in Scotland but by 2015 the number had more than trebled to 350.

Dr Pollock said: “Some of the reasons for this increase are due to alcohol and smoking but we think the proportion of HPV-related head and neck cancers are increasing.

“This might be due to a change in sexual behaviours.”

The Scottish government plans to extend the school HPV vaccination programme to cover boys as well as girls – a move that he welcomed.

He said: “Our latest data shows that 78 per cent of people with head and neck cancers were men and that HPV was present in 60 per cent of the cancers.

“This means the vaccine may reduce some of these cancers in the long term in Scotland.

“Not only that, but when we looked at the deprivation status of these cases – much like cervical cancer – head and neck cancers are disproportionately experienced by more deprived individuals.

“We know that smoking and alcohol consumption are linked to these cancers and policies are in place to try to reduce this consumption.

“But the great thing about a vaccine given to young boys is that if you give it early enough, and see a high uptake across all the deprived areas, you are reducing the inequality.”

Duncan Gilbert

The findings follow a report in April from Dr Pollock and academics from Strathclyde, Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities.

It suggested that routinely giving the HPV vaccine to schoolgirls in Scotland had led to a dramatic reduction in cervical disease.

Immunisation for girls aged 12 and 13 started across the country 10 years ago.

Since then researchers have found instances of pre-cancerous cells being found in 20-year-olds having smear tests has fallen 90 per cent.

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