Is your son at risk?

What Is HPV? Is your son at risk?

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections linked to Oral Sex. Experts believe that infections with high-risk strains of the HPV may be a key reason for the increase in cases of oral cancer.

The commonest infections produce warts usually on the hands, mouth, legs, genitals and other areas of the skin. These and many other strains of the virus are harmless, non-cancerous and are easily treatable. Most infections are fought off by the body’s immune system. There are no symptoms and most people will never know they had the virus.

A few strains of HPV are known to be high-risk. If these persist they can lead to cell changes which could develop into cancer. One of these strains is HPV-16.

HPV and Oral Cancer

Traditionally, the main risk factors for oral cancer have been tobacco and alcohol and as oral cancer tends to take at least a decade to develop, it affected people over 50 years old. However, more recently there has been an increase in the number of HPV-16 positive cases of oral cancer and patients have tended to be younger, less likely to be smokers and have better outcomes from treatment than those whose tumours show no evidence of HPV.

Studies have shown HPV-16 has been established beyond doubt as a causative agent in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OSPCC). Combined data from 14 published studies (2006-2010) show that 57% of 1316 reported cases of OPSCC were HPV-16 positive. In the USA, data indicates that the proportion of all head and neck cancers that are oropharyngeal has almost doubled over three decades from 18% in 1973 to 31% in 2004. Globally OPSCC is estimated to be around 10% of all head and neck cancers.

During 2011 publications on the influence of HPV-16 on OPSCC in the UK show that most OPSCCs are now HPV positive and that there has been a fourfold increase in the past two decades. Should this trend continue, the latest American predictions that HPV positive OPSCC cases will exceed those of cervical cancer by 2020 may come true in the UK.

Getting HPV

Like many other cancers, if oral cancer is caught early, there is a better chance of successful treatment.

Symptoms of oral cancer – mainly mouth ulcers that just won’t heal, any lumps or thickening in the mouth, lips or throat, or red or white patches in the mouth that won’t go away.

Dentists have an important role to play in spotting oral cancer early and encouraging their patients to take care of their mouths. So make sure you attend regular dental check-ups.

HPV is transmitted during sex and may also be spread by open-mouth kissing. It is the main cause of cervical cancer in women, affecting almost 3,000 women a year in the UK.

Cancer typically takes 20 to 30 years to develop and the rise in HPV-related throat cancer is being seen as the legacy of the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. Experts say oral sex is seen by teenagers as safer than sexual intercourse as carrying no risk of pregnancy or infections.

HPV vaccination: The girls-only jab

Many specialists criticised the Department of Health’s decision to restrict HPV vaccination to girls. They argued that giving it to boys would reduce the prevalence of the infection in the population by increasing “herd” immunity, offer added protection to girls, and prevent genital warts and anal cancer in both sexes.

The department said vaccinating boys could not be justified on cost-benefit grounds – but that was before the scale of the rise in HPV-related throat cancer was known. The Department of Health is being urged to review the national immunisation programme against the commonest sexually transmitted infection in response to a dramatic rise in cancer linked to oral sex.

HPV Vaccination

Vaccines that protect against HPV strains linked with cervical, penile warts and annual cancer already being offered to girls and young women to prevent cervical cancer. It is thought that these vaccines will also protect against HPV-related mouth cancer. It is likely that Boys will also be vaccinated if the cost-effectiveness of including them in the vaccination programmes is proven. The data suggests VERY STRONGLY that vaccine will work in men.

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It is important that we get all our boys vaccinated against the HPV and this is not just a cancer for Girls!

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