A new study indicates that vaccinating 12-year-old boys against the humanpapilloma virus (HPV) may be a cost-effective strategy for preventing oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer, a cancer that starts at the back of the throat and mouth, and involves the tonsils and base of the tongue. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study provides important information about HPV vaccination, which has proven effective against HPV-related disease in both sexes but remains controversial, especially in males.
Many western countries have established female HPV vaccination programs for preventing cervical cancer. Little is known about the cost-effectiveness of male-HPV vaccination, however. Donna Graham, MB, BCh, MRCPUK and Lillian Siu, MD, FRCPC, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, in Toronto, led a team that compared the potential costs and effectiveness of vaccinating adolescent boys in Canada against HPV for preventing HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. When the investigators applied a statistical model to a population of 192,940 Canadian boys who were 12 years old in 2012, they found that HPV vaccination could save from $8 million to $28 million Canadian dollars over the boys’ lifetimes.
Factors that could impact the cost savings of HPV vaccination in boys include, among others, vaccine cost, vaccine effectiveness, costs of cancer treatment, and survival of patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers.
“We believe this study is important because HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer has increased significantly in incidence, especially in developed countries,” said Dr. Graham. “It is projected that by 2020, HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer will become the most common HPV-related cancer in the US, surpassing cervical cancer.”
Policy makers in many countries such as the United States, Canada, Austria, and Australia have recommended HPV vaccination in boys, but it is unfunded and is excluded from national immunization programs in many countries worldwide, notes Dr. Siu. “We hope that results from this study would raise awareness and lead to further assessment of this important public health issue,” she said.
Do you know why boys need HPV vaccine too?
A lot of parents know that HPV vaccine protects girls against cervical cancer. But did you know that vaccinating boys can protect them against cancer, too?
HPV is short for human papillomavirus, a common virus in both women and men. HPV can cause cancers of the anus, mouth/throat (oropharyngeal cancer), and penis in men. Every year, over 9,000 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV.
Cases of anal cancer and cancers of the mouth/throat are also on the rise. In fact, if current trends continue, the annual number of cancers of the mouth/throat attributed to HPV is expected to surpass the annual number of cervical cancers by 2020.1
Many of the cancers caused by HPV infection could be prevented by HPV vaccine.
One HPV vaccine - Gardasil - is recommended by doctors and health experts for boys at ages 11-12 to prevent infection with HPV that could lead to cancer. HPV vaccine also helps prevent most cases of genital warts. HPV vaccination of boys is also likely to benefit girls by reducing the spread of HPV infection.
Why does my son need this at 11 or 12 years old?
HPV vaccine is recommended at ages 11-12 for two reasons:
- HPV vaccine produces the highest immune response at this age.
- HPV vaccine must be given before exposure for it to be effective in preventing cancers and other diseases caused by HPV.
If you haven’t already vaccinated your sons (and daughters!), it’s not too late. Ask your child’s doctor at their next appointment about getting HPV vaccine. The series is three shots over six months’ time. Take advantage of any visit to the doctor - such as an annual health checkup or physicals for sports, camp, or college - to ask the doctor about what shots your preteens and teens need.