Adolescent boys in Scotland are to receive the same cancer vaccine as girls to tackle the worrying rise in mouth tumours north of the Border, it has been announced.
Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick unveiled the move yesterday amid growing calls for a “gender neutral” approach to use of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations which is currently only given to younger girls to guard against cervical cancer.
But the virus is one of the leading causes of oral and throat cancer, especially among young people, with rates twice as high in Scotland as England.
Mr FitzPatrick said the move would save lives and said the scheme would be rolled out as soon as practicable.
The announcement follows calls for urgent action in Scotland after a Westminster committee recommended the HPV vaccination programme should be gender neutral.
Mr FitzPatrick said: “I am pleased to announce that the Scottish Government will implement a HPV vaccination programme for adolescent boys in Scotland.
“We know from the recommendations made by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) that this will help reduce diagnoses of HPV related cancers and save lives in years to come.
“Work to develop the programme will now begin, in conjunction with Health Protection Scotland and NHS Scotland, to be rolled out as soon as is practicable.”
Currently, girls in S1 to S3 across Scotland are offered the injections against the sexually transmitted viruses to protect against cervical cancer.
This was extended to men who have sex with men up to the age of 45 last year to provide protection against throat cancer and other cancers the viruses can cause.
About 90 per cent of oral cancer cases are preventable, with tobacco and alcohol, as well as HPV infections, identified as the main risk factors. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus and most cancers contracted through it are believed to be linked to oral sex.
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Age ranges of those to be vaccinated are still under consideration. The JCVI said in a report published yesterday: “If considering a cost-effectiveness analysis where a combined girls’ and boys’ programme is compared to no vaccination, gender-neutral HPV vaccination is highly likely to be cost-effective.”
David Cross, vice-chairman of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Council, welcomed the announced by SNP ministers.
He said: “Oral cancer rates in Scotland are double those in England, and people from our most deprived communities are up to three times more likely to be affected.
“HPV is a key risk factor, and this year 30,000 boys in Scotland have gone unprotected. We applaud the fact ministers have shown real commitment, and pledged to give boys the same protection our girls currently receive through the school vaccination programme.
“Oral cancer claims more lives in Scotland than car accidents. Dentists are often the first to spot the condition, and have fought to see the logic of prevention put into practice.
“The Scottish Government’s new oral health improvement plan may, unwittingly, erect new barriers to oral cancer detection. We need the Scottish government to work with the profession to turn the tables on this life-threatening condition.”
HPV has emerged as one of the leading causes of oral and throat cancer, especially among young people, and rates are rising steeply overall. The condition is linked to 5 per cent of all cancers worldwide, including some that affect only men.
Dentists had expressed disquiet at moves from the Scottish Government to move towards 24-month recall intervals – that could have a significant impact on oral cancer detection rates.
Oral cancer is one of the fastest rising types of cancer, and it has higher incidence among men. Around nine out of ten oral or throat cancer cases are linked to preventable causes like smoking, alcohol and HPV.
MSPs from a range of political parties at Holyrood last year backed a motion lodged by Tory Adam Tomkins, setting out that “awareness remains worrying low” for the condition which kills more Scots than car accidents.
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