Throat cancer a ‘ticking timebomb’ warn experts

Throat cancer cases have doubled in Scotland. Picture: Getty
Throat cancer cases have doubled in Scotland. Picture: Getty
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BOYS should be given a vaccine to prevent an epidemic of throat cancer, a charity has warned the government.

The Throat Cancer Foundation says urgent action is required to prevent the UK being hit by a throat-cancer “ticking timebomb”.

Experts are calling for 12-year-old boys to be given the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine, which is already administered to girls to prevent cervical cancer, to help prevent rising rates of the disease across the UK.

Throat cancer can be caused by HPV infection and cancers related to the virus in Scotland have more than doubled in the past 20 years.

More than 3,000 people in the UK are affected by HPV- related cancers, which cause 5 per cent of cancers globally.

Throat cancer is the fastest-growing male cancer across the UK, with rates of oropharyngeal cancer (the part of the throat used for speaking and swallowing) in England and Wales increasing from 1,060 in 2006 to 1,780 in 2010.

Professor Christopher Nutting, lead clinician of the head and neck unit at The Royal Marsden Hospital in London, welcomed the call to vaccinate both sexes in the same manner.

He said: “We are seeing a rising number of cases of throat cancer in our clinics in the UK.

“We need to do all we can to raise awareness of this issue, so the launch of the Throat Cancer Foundation is timely. At the moment, girls are routinely vaccinated against HPV but boys are not, meaning they are routinely being exposed to a virus that can cause life-threatening cancers.

“Evidence from Australia proves that HPV vaccination is effective – a national programme led to a 90 per cent drop in cases of genital warts in men and women.

“We echo the call for a universal UK vaccination programme for 12-year-old boys and girls.”

Medical experts say the rise in HPV-related throat cancers makes the case for giving the HPV vaccination to boys more compelling.

That would reduce the prevalence of the infection in the population by increasing “herd” immunity, offering added protection to girls and prevent genital warts and anal cancer in both sexes.

Dr Paddy Niblock, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee said: “The role of the Human Papillomavirus is well recognised in several cancer types. In the UK we are treating a rapidly increasing number of younger, fitter patients with HPV associated head and neck cancer.”

“Cure rates in this population are extremely high but current treatments are often associated with significant long term side effects, which can affect future quality of life. Advances in radiotherapy can reduce these effects but the availability of a vaccine means that we can reduce the numbers of people getting this cancer in the first place.”