Study: HPV virus linked to third of throat cancer cases
With the government being urged to extend the HPV vaccination programme to young gay men, a new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows one third of people diagnosed with throat cancer are infected with a form of HPV.
HPV (human papillomavirus) is known to spread through genital or oral contact.
It can cause cervical, penile, anal and throat cancers, as well as genital and anal warts.
Most people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime, and in most cases the immune system will offer protection.
With around 100 different strains, there are two which are most likely to cause cancer – HPV-16 and HPV-18.
HPV-16 is thought to be responsible for around 60% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers and 60% of oral cancers.
Around 1,500 people are diagnosed with throat cancers each year in the UK, with around 470 people dying from the disease.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “HPV is an extremely common virus.
“Practising safer sex may reduce the risk of getting or passing on HPV, but condoms won’t stop infections completely.”
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She added: “If the HPV vaccine can also protect against oral HPV infections and cancers, then it could have a broader potential protective effect, but we don’t have enough research yet to tell us.”
The vaccination programme against HPV began in 2008 in the UK, but only among girls, on the grounds that this would curb the spread of the infection to boys as well.
Straight men gain protection from the virus through herd immunity if women are vaccinated, but no such protection is afforded to gay men.
Conservative MP Mike Freer has campaigned extensively at Westminster to get the government to address the issue.
During a Commons debate with Health Minister Anna Soubry on 2 July, Ms Soubry confirmed she would instruct the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) “to look at how best to vaccinate boys, girls, women and men” as a “matter of urgency”.