Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection linked to cancer, specifically cervical cancer as well as cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, penis, mouth and throat. HPV is also linked to genital warts for both men and women. Medical research supports the effectiveness of HPV vaccinations for boys.
Risks of HPV
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a highly-infectious virus affecting the skin and moist membranes, including the anus, mouth and throat, plus the cervix in women. Cervical cancer is the 4th most common cancer for women worldwide, and the 2nd amongst women aged between 15 and 44.
The HPV centre report that over 527,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year across the world. Almost 100% of these are related to the HPV virus (99%), according to World Health Organisation (WHO)
Sexual transmission is the most likely way of contracting HPV, through either vaginal or anal sexual intercourse, skin-to-skin genital contact, or through oral sex and other sex play. HPV symptoms are usually non-existent, which is why many people go through life never knowing they have this virus. In nine out of 10 cases, HPV goes away within a couple of years. However, when it doesn’t more serious conditions can arise, including:
- cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women
- cancer of the penis in men
- cancers of the anus and throat, tongue and tonsils in both men and women
- genital warts in both men and women
WHY: vaccination is essential for prevention
Much research has been conducted around HPV and it concludes that vaccination is the best way to protect both men and women from pre-cursors to cancer. Whilst boys in Australia and United States have been part of a vaccination programme for a few years, the NHS do not offer this vaccination at the moment.
Vaccination offers boys protection against HPV related mouth, throat and anus cancers and protects against genital warts, which is the 2nd most frequent sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK.
The HPV vaccination for boys will also, in turn, help to protect girls through decreasing transmission.
Clinical trials show that vaccination provides almost 100% protection against cervical pre-cancers and genital warts.
“HPV vaccines work extremely well. Clinical trials showed HPV vaccines provide close to 100% protection against cervical precancers and genital warts. Since the first HPV vaccine was recommended in 2006, there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States” Centre for Disease Control
In addition, studies with 10 years of data, so far, haven’t found any evidence that the vaccine fails to protect over time. It is important for girls to still continue to go for their Pap (smear) tests, which assess any risk of cervical cancer as this is part of continued preventive approach to healthcare.
WHEN: is the HPV vaccine required for boys?
Research shows that receiving the vaccination prior to any sexual activity ensures the best results as there is no chance that the individual could have come into contact with HPV. Getting vaccinated at this young age hasn’t demonstrated any links to encouraging sexual activity earlier either. Whilst the vaccination can be given as young as 9 years old, it is routinely recommended for all 11 and 12 years olds. However, if the vaccination was missed at these younger ages, teenagers should also get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.
HOW: does the vaccination process work?
Cervarix is a vaccination just for girls. Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are used to vaccinate both girls and boys, and can protect girls against different types of HPV. HPV vaccines have historically been given in three doses, over a six month period. However, in 2016 the recommended guidelines as set by Centre for Disease Control changed for under 15 year olds, decreasing to just two doses, with the second dose to be administered six to 12 months after the first. A third dose is required for adolescents that have their first two doses less than five months apart. For those young adults receiving the vaccination between age 15 and 26, three doses will be required.
Vaccine side effects
Vaccines can cause minor side effects but most people experience no side affects at all. The most common is a sore arm from the injection. Others may include fever, headache, nausea, low energy or muscle and joint pain. There are a few exceptions when a HPV vaccines are not suitable, including in the case of severe allergies. An experience doctor though can discuss this with you in advance to ensure the vaccine will be suitable.
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