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UK offers HPV vaccines to boys, aims to stop 100,000 cancer cases

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus linked to more than 99% of cervical cancers, as well as 90% of anal cancers, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers and more than 60% of penile cancers.

FILE: A bottle of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine. Picture: AFP

LONDON – Some 100,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in Britain in the next 40 years by a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cancers of the cervix, mouth, anus and genitals, UK health officials said on Tuesday.

Announcing the extension of a vaccination programme to cover boys, as well as girls, experts at Public Health England (PHE), said the immunisation plan would prevent around 64,000 cervical cancers and nearly 50,000 non-cervical cancers by 2058.

This would be 50 years after the introduction of the HPV vaccination programme in Britain - which began in girls in 2008 - when people who were vaccinated as teenagers might otherwise begin to develop HPV-related cancers, PHE said in a statement.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus linked to more than 99% of cervical cancers, as well as 90% of anal cancers, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers and more than 60% of penile cancers.

PHE said that from September this year, boys aged 12 and 13 in Britain will be offered the shots as part of a government health programme.

Since UK girls began getting the HPV vaccine in 2008, studies have shown that infections with some key types of the virus have fallen by 86% in 16 to 21-year-olds in England. A Scottish study also showed the vaccine had reduced pre-cancerous cervical disease in women by up to 71%.

Robin Weiss, a professor of viral oncology at University College London, said the extension of the HPV programme “should be a win-win situation”.

“The HPV vaccine has enjoyed 10 years of success in protecting girls from acquiring cervical cancer as women,” he said in an emailed comment. “It appears clear ... that vaccinated boys will themselves benefit from not getting cancer of the penis, anus, and a diminished risk of head and neck cancer.”

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