The British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) has welcomed a government announcement that the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine will be offered to men between the ages of 16 and 40 who have sex with men (MSM), but have warned that the move may not go far enough in terms of cancer prevention.
HPV vaccines have been available for girls under the age of 18 since 2008 (and women as part of a catch-up programme), as some forms of the virus can cause cervical cancer, but until now it has not been offered to men, despite the fact that it can lead to mouth cancers.
It is known that HPV can be spread through oral sex, and it is expected to overtake smoking as the leading cause of mouth cancer in the future.
Nigel Carter, chief executive of the BDHF, said: “We welcome this decision and vaccinations for MSM are a step forward, but we feel that this change in policy does not go nearly far enough.”
He added: “All men who have sex with women remain at risk of infection if those women have not been vaccinated themselves.
“Also vaccinating MSM who attend sexual health clinics is not the best way to approach the programme, this is because many MSM do not attend sexual health clinics, with the average age of first attendance being 28.”
A decision on whether or not the vaccine should be offered to all adolescent boys is due to be announced in 2017, although the BDHF believes that this should be brought forward, as any decision is unlikely to be implemented before 2020.
Over 7,000 cases of mouth cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year. The annual death rate is more than 2,000, which the BDHF points out is higher than the annual mortality of testicular and cervical cancer combined.