HPV vaccine for boys could slash head and neck cancer

Tue, 25 Jun 2019 10:38:00 BST

Vaccinating schoolboys against the potentially deadly human papillomavirus (HPV) could reduce HPV related head and neck cancers in men in the long term, according to a team of Scottish researchers and clinicians.

A two-year study involving experts from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), Glasgow and Strathclyde universities, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Dr Katie Wakeham at Sussex Cancer Centre and the Scottish HPV Reference Laboratory in Edinburgh, studied 235 patients in Scotland with head and neck cancer and found HPV in 60 per cent of cases.

GCU Senior Research Fellow Dr Kevin Pollock, co-author of this latest research published in the Royal College of Radiologists Journal Clinical Oncology, published by Elsevier, today (June 25), said the findings were great news given that the Scottish Government has agreed to implement an HPV vaccination programme for adolescent boys in Scotland.

In April, Dr Pollock and academics from Universities of Strathclyde, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, revealed groundbreaking research showing that routinely vaccinating schoolgirls had led to a “dramatic” drop in cervical disease later in life.

Researchers found the vaccine has nearly wiped out cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women since an immunisation programme was introduced 10 years ago.

Dr Pollock insisted that introducing routine HPV vaccinations in schools for boys may also prevent some HPV related head and neck cancer in Scotland.

He explained: “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 and 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 in all the deprived areas you are reducing the inequality.”

He said head and neck cancer has been increasing over last 25 years, particularly amongst men. In 1994, there were 100 cases in Scotland but by 2015 the numbers had soared three-fold to 350.

“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,” said Dr Pollock.