The NHS will give the HPV vaccine to teenage boys across the UK as well as girls from September, Public Health England has confirmed.
Boys will, for the first time, be given the lifesaving jab when they’re in Year 8 at secondary school in a bid to prevent more than 100,000 cancers by the year 2058.
Teenage girls have received the jab since 2008 but the Government has now announced boys in Year 8, aged 12 and 13, will also receive it from the start of this school year. The vaccination programme has been credited with drastically reducing rates of HPV infection and is expected to all but wipe out cervical cancer.
Men can get cancer from HPV and can also put women at increased risk by passing the virus through sexual contact.
Human papillomavirus comes in more than 100 different strains and is normally harmless, but can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, head and neck.
Academics and medical organisations have welcomed the move as a ‘triumph for gender equality in cancer prevention’.
Boys haven’t been offered the routine HPV vaccine since it was introduced for girls 11 years ago, but will be included in the lifesaving programme from September this year (stock image)
HOW VACCINE COULD PREVENT 100,000 CANCER CASES
Scientists from the University of Warwick said that rolling out the vaccine to both sexes will prevent 64,138 cases of cervical cancer and 49,649 cases of non-cervical cancer in the UK by 2058.
The cancers that will be prevented include 3,433 cases of penile cancer and 21,395 cases of head and neck cancer, such as throat cancer, in men.
PHE today announced the HPV vaccination programme would be extended after 11 years of only including girls.
There are two injections, with the second needed between six and 24 months after the first.
More than 10million girls have already been vaccinated against HPV – around 80 per cent of all women now aged 18 to 24.
As a result, rates of infection with the HPV16 and 18 strains have fallen by 86 per cent in England since 2008.
More than 113,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the next 40 years by the vaccine, according to experts at the University of Warwick.
They have predicted cervical cancer – the most common type in women under 35 – could be avoided 64,138 times, and other cancers 49,649 times.
‘By extending the HPV vaccine to boys, the NHS is taking an important step forward in our fight to prevent cancer,’ said the NHS’s national cancer director, Cally Palmer.
‘More people will be better protected, and the vaccine could help to eliminate cervical cancer in this country.’
Around one in 20 cancers worldwide are linked to HPV and the virus causes huge proportions of cancers of the genitals.
Cervical cancer can be traced back to HPV in 99 per cent of cases, Public Health England said.
And so can 90 per cent of anal cancers, 70 per cent of vaginal cancers and 60 per cent of penis cancers.
HPV JAB COULD WIPE OUT CERVICAL CANCER WITHIN DECADES
Cervical cancer could soon be a thing of the past thanks to the extremely effective jab which has been given to teenage girls for free since 2008.
A major study of screening programmes involving 60million people in 14 countries found infections with two of the most dangerous strains of HPV have fallen by 83 per cent among 13 to 19-year-old girls, thanks to the vaccination.
They also fell 66 per cent in women aged 20 to 24, according to results published in The Lancet medical journal.
Professor Marc Brisson, from Laval University in Canada, said: ‘What we are working on now is trying to determine when elimination will occur.
‘We don’t have a precise date but we’re trying to determine when it will occur.’
He added that Australian scientists have estimated they could wipe out cervical cancer in their country – which has similar policies on the disease to the UK – within a few decades.
Dr David Mesher, of Public Health England, added: ‘There will be a time in the future where we will see very low rates of cervical cancer.’
Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with the cervical cancer every year and almost 1,000 die from it annually.
Experts said the findings should motivate other countries to put similar vaccine policies in place.
While a large proportion of boys may have been protected by immunisation among girls they may grow up to have sex with, introducing the jab for boys as well ensure protection across the population.
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, chair of the British Medical Association’s board of science, said: ‘This will undoubtedly reduce the risk of young men contracting cancers linked to the virus in adult life.
‘Given the growing body of evidence that HPV is also responsible for a range of cancers that can affect men, this is a very important step.
‘Following the success of the vaccination programme for girls, it is only right that boys are now afforded the same protection.’
HPV is extremely difficult to avoid – at least a third of people in the UK have the virus and 90 per cent of people will be infected with some form of it in their lives.
And, despite in cases of a couple of strains which genital warts, people often don’t know they have the virus and never suffer any ill effects.
There is no medication which can get rid of HPV once someone has it but people’s immune systems often destroy the virus themselves within a couple of years of catching it.
HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact which may happen during any kind of sex or foreplay.
Condoms may help to reduce the risk of transmission but don’t offer full protection.
Women are tested to see if they have the virus if they attend cervical screening appointments with the NHS.
Some men – mainly those who have sex with men – may also be offered screening at sexual health clinics if they’re at high risk of getting anal cancer.
The Royal College of Nursing’s Helen Donovan said: ‘While the prevention of cervical cancer has been the main aim of the HPV vaccination programme, emerging evidence suggests the vaccine prevents cancers in both sexes.
‘The new focus on universal vaccination will protect the population as a whole through individual and wider herd immunity and the College is proud to support this move.’
And Professor Beate Kampmann, director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, added: ‘This decision is a triumph for gender equality in cancer prevention.
‘It’s pleasing to see the UK follow the example of other countries like Australia, where the vaccine has been implemented for girls since 2007 and for boys in 2013.
‘This has resulted in the HPV rate among women aged 18 to 24 dropping from 22 per cent to 1 per cent between 2005 and 2015. This success speaks for itself.’
Boys aged 12 and 13 are to be given the HPV vaccine from the start of this school year (file photo)
Public Health England added boys who fall outside of the age bracket (currently aged 13-to 18) will not be offered the vaccine on a catch-up basis.
Dr Olwen Williams, president of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV said: ‘Extending the HPV vaccination programme to include boys is extremely important, and is something that BASHH has been strongly campaigning for in recent years.
‘Currently a large number of adolescents remain unprotected from the existing girls’ HPV vaccination programme, despite the burden of HPV-related disease, such as ano-genital cancers, oral cancers and genital warts.
‘Whilst we welcome the decision to provide the vaccine to boys in Year 8, which will have a significantly positive impact on reducing the spread of HPV and improving sexual health outcomes more broadly, we are disappointed that a ‘catch up’ hasn’t also been included for the boys who fall outside of this age.
‘The decision to limit the extension of the programme in this way represents a missed opportunity and will leave a not insignificant proportion of the population at ongoing risk of acquiring HPV.’
WHAT IS HPV? THE INFECTION LINKED TO 99% OF CERVICAL CANCER CASES
Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with HPV in their lives
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.
Spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex and skin-to-skin contact between genitals, it is extremely common.
Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 of which can affect the genital area. Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious.
Many people never show symptoms, as they can arise years after infection, and the majority of cases go away without treatment.
It can lead to genital warts, and is also known to cause cervical cancer by creating an abnormal tissue growth.
Annually, an average of 38,000 cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the US, 3,100 cases of cervical cancer in the UK and around 2,000 other cancers in men.
HPV can also cause cancers of the throat, neck, tongue, tonsils, vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It can take years for cancer to develop.