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Oral cancer fight looms after JCVI decision on HPV

22 November 2017

Oral cancer fight looms after JCVI decision on HPV

The Faculty of General Dental Practice UK (FGDP(UK)) has cautiously welcomed the deferral of a decision on whether to recommend the HPV vaccination to boys, but says the fight against the increasing prevalence of oral cancer hangs in the balance.

In July, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) consulted on an ‘interim position’ that it was not minded to recommend that boys be immunised. HPV Action, a campaign group of which the Faculty is a member, responded that the JCVI’s position was legally questionable and the result of flawed modelling, and separately sent a detailed Equality Analysis of the policy to the Department of Health. Minutes published this week reveal that the JCVI has now taken a step back from its interim position, deferring a decision until its modelling has been reviewed and equality issues have been more fully considered.

HPV causes 5% of all cancers, and 2,000 men a year in the UK are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer, of whom almost half will die from the condition within five years. HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers, and over two-thirds of oral cancer diagnoses, which have increased sharply in recent years to around 20 a day, are in men.

Since 2008, girls have been vaccinated against HPV on the NHS at age 12/13, leading to a significant reduction in the prevalence of the virus among women. HPV Action has been campaigning for men to be offered the same protection as women, as will soon be the case in 15 other countries – a position backed by 97% of dentists and 94% of doctors in a poll earlier this year.

HPV Action says the gender divide has already left 3.5 million young men unvaccinated against a fast-growing and potentially fatal virus – including around 1.5 million in the four years since the JCVI started considering the issue - and will leave another 400,000 boys a year unprotected until both sexes are treated equally.

However, the deferral is no guarantee that the government will decide to give boys the life-saving vaccine, and HPV Action is calling for a speedy decision and full transparency of the decision-making process, and has indicated that it may later refer the issue to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Dr Mick Horton, Dean of FGDP(UK), said:

“The fight against oral cancer hangs in the balance, yet the NHS already provides an HPV vaccine to women, but not men, which it acknowledges is just as effective for men. Dentists and doctors see the devastation that HPV-related cancers wreak on patients and their families, so it is welcome that the Government’s vaccination advisory committee might finally be listening; but unless and until immunisation is extended to boys, an increasing number of men will continue to die needlessly.”

Peter Baker, HPV Action Campaign Director, said:

 “While we are pleased that the JCVI is listening, we are very concerned about how long this is taking. The review began in 2013 and a decision was supposed to have been made in 2015, then early 2017, then late 2017 and now we are looking at 2018. While the JCVI risks being compared to the Chilcot Inquiry, some 400,000 more boys are each year being left at risk of infection and the diseases caused by HPV. The JCVI must act quickly.” 

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