The new ‘HPV Action Network’ was announced earlier this week as high-level cancer experts from across Europe gathered in Brussels.
The alliance has been formed by the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) with the goal to end all cancers caused by HPV across Europe.
HPV is the cause of 5% of all cancers. These include cervical, mouth, head and neck, anal and penile cancers.
The UK began vaccinating girls from HPV in 2008 and boys from September 2019.
The Oral Health Foundation was one of the groups instrumental in campaigning for the UK vaccination. Chief Executive of the charity, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, says HPV remains one of the most destructive public health problems in Europe.
Dr Carter says: “HPV cancers and diseases affect hundreds of thousands of people across Europe every year. We now have an effective vaccination that can protect people against HPV, but despite this, most countries across Europe are not yet vaccinating both boys and girls.
“In September, when the UK extended the HPV vaccination to boys, it was one of the most important and significant milestones in public health in recent times. It was a decision that will save thousands of lives. This now needs extending across Europe.”
HPV accounts for around 53,000 new cases of cancer across 31 European countries every year.
Members of the European Parliament heard a widespread voicing of support for the network’s goal of eliminating HPV across Europe over the next four years.
Professor Veronique Trillet-Lenoir MEP, the co-chair of the MEPs Against Cancer Group, says: “By 2030, effective strategies to eliminate cancers caused by HPV as a public health problem should be implemented in all European countries.”
Whilst almost all causes of cervical cancer are linked to HPV, it is also associated with up to 70% of mouth cancers, 90% of anal cancers, 60% of penile cancers, 75% of vaginal cancers and 70% of vulval cancers.
Cervical cancer screening is provided in most EU countries, but not all.
However, most countries do not yet offer HPV testing, now recognised to be the most effective screening method. Meanwhile, the uptake of screening varies widely across countries, as do treatment outcomes.
HPV cancers in Europe are rising and are thought to be the main reason why mouth cancer cases in the UK have more than doubled within the last generation.
While European health experts begin their campaign to introduce a HPV vaccination for girls and boys across the continent, UK groups want to make sure as many Brits as possible receive the vaccine.
“Whether you are the parent of a girl or boy, please make sure they receive the HPV vaccination without delay,” adds Dr Carter. “As the vaccine gets less effective as teenagers get older, we recommend having the vaccination straight away.”
The UK group HPV Action is a collaborative partnership of 51 patient and professional organisations that are working to reduce the health burden of HPV. Campaign Director, Peter Baker, says: “It’s fantastic news that HPV vaccination will now be offered to 12/13-year-old boys across the UK. We made the case for this for five long years because we know that universal vaccination will save men’s and women’s lives, reduce suffering and in the long run save money too.
“Every effort should now be made nationally and locally to encourage boys and their parents to take up the offer of vaccination in large numbers. We will continue to make the case for a catch-up programme for older boys who are still at school, so they are also protected.”