Experts currently predict that human papillomavirus (HPV) is set to overtake smoking tobacco as the leading cause of mouth cancer across the globe within the next decade. While action is being taken to reduce the other three major causes, not enough seems to be being done to tackle the spread of HPV.
A new group, HPV Action, aims to change that. The organisation has recently finalised a petition, which will be sent to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, that calls for an introduction of the HPV vaccine for boys in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
The vaccine is provided to girls in UK schools, however it is transmitted via oral sex and so it can just as easily affect males in later life, who can then transmit the virus to unvaccinated females. HPV Action believes that vaccinating boys is a key step in preventing mouth cancer.
HPV is one cause of mouth cancer, alongside smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol and eating processed and unhealthy foods. While people worldwide are making a more concerted effort to reduce the latter three in order to be more healthy in general, the same cannot be said for HPV.
Cases of mouth cancer have doubled in the last 30 years, and one in five of them is currently caused by HPV. A study published in Cancer Prevention Research also linked the virus to tooth loss, gum disease and other oral health issues.
Peter Baker, HPV Action’s campaign director, said: “Vaccinating girls alone is not enough to tackle HPV. Men can still get the virus HPV from unvaccinated women from the UK and other countries or from other men.
“It is simply unfair to deny boys in the UK the same level of protection as girls or as boys in Australia and other countries where both sexes are now routinely vaccinated. HPV vaccination is one of the easiest ways of preventing cancer.”
Many organisations have pledged their support for HPV Action, including the British Dental Health Foundation, which believes that “a population-wide HPV vaccination programme is now the best solution, both for general public health and financial reasons”.