Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name given to a family of viruses. Infection with some types of this virus can cause cell changes that lead to cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, mouth cancer as well as genital and skin warts.
HPV virus is very common and is easily spread by sexual activity if condoms are not used. Half the population may be infected at some time in their life. In most cases, the virus doesn’t do any harm because your immune system kills it before it can do so. However in some cases, the infection persists and can lead to the conditions listed above.
An HPV vaccine called Gardasil is routinely offered to secondary school girls aged 12 and 13 as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises the government on how vaccinations may reduce health problems. The latest draft minutes of the JCVI say that as part of its work on the HPV vaccine it agreed that consideration should be given to offering Gardasil to boys and some men. A decision will be made after a careful consideration of the evidence; particularly whether routine vaccination of boys could be a cost-effective use of NHS resources.
Boys are being routinely vaccinated against HPV in both Australia and the US in their early teen years. Gardasil vaccine has been studied very carefully and shown to be safe. It is currently only available in the UK privately to boys and men. A course of 3 doses of vaccine is required. The best time to be vaccinated is before a person becomes sexually active.
The HPV vaccine should help protect boys against genital warts, anal and penile cancer as well as limiting the spread of the virus. Some experts have argued that routine vaccination in boys would also reduce the number of oral cancer cases; the actor Michael Douglas allegedly attributed his throat cancer to historical sexual activity.