The HPV vaccine for boys - an anti-cancer vaccine?

I first started thinking about this having been asked to give male students from the US their HPV immunisations whilst they were visiting.  I had heard about an increase in head and neck cancers in the UK from one of my ENT colleagues.  And so I started to look into the reasons for giving HPV immunisation to boys - or for not giving the immunisation as is the case on the UK immunisation program at the moment.

HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a common virus that affects both males and females and is transmitted through sexual contact.  It rarely causes symptoms and a high percentage of individuals in the UK will be infected with the virus at some stage in their lives.

There are about 40 different types of the virus that affect the genital area and can be spread through sexual contact.  But only 2 types are responsible for causing cancer; types 16 and 18 and these can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina (women), penis (men), anus and some head and neck cancers.  Types 6 and 11 cause genital warts.

The HPV vaccine gives very effective protection from HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 and therefore gives protection from the cancers caused by these HPV subtypes.  The vaccine has been given to girls at around the age of 13 for many years in the UK.  But looking at what is happening in Australia and the US we have seen that the HPV vaccination is now being given to boys on their national immunisation programs.

With the increase in HPV associated head and neck cancers in the adult male population we decided to offer the immunisation to all boys registered at our practice when they reach the age of 10.  Given at that time they only need two injections, 6 months apart, to give them the same protection as the girls of the same age.

The reason that HPV immunisation is given so early is partly because we know that at that age children have a good immune response giving them good protection, and also because we want to make sure that we immunise them well before they have any form of sexual contact, even kissing.

It's an expensive immunisation which may be why it is not more widely available in the UK yet.  But at least we are able to offer it in our practice.

I hope that you have found this of interest.  We are always looking at ways to make sure that you stay well at all stages of life.

With very best wishes

Dr Amanda Northridge

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