The United Kingdom’s recent decision to vaccinate boys and girls against cancers including oral cancer related to the human papillomavirus (HPV) has inspired the formation of the European-wide HPV Action Network to put an end to these diseases.
HPV is the cause of 5% of all cancers, reports the Oral Health Foundation, a member of the coalition, including oral and head and neck cancers as well as cervical, anal, and penile cancers.
The United Kingdom began vaccinating girls against HPV in 2008 and boys in 2019. The Oral Health Foundation was one of the groups instrumental in campaigning for the vaccination policy.
“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,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation.
“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,” said Carter.
HPV accounts for around 53,000 new cases of cancer across 31 countries in Europe each year, the Oral Health Foundation says. During a recent meeting of the European Parliament, advocates spoke about the need to eliminate HPV across Europe.
“By 2030, effective strategies to eliminate cancers caused by HPV as a public health problem should be implemented in all European countries,” said professor Veronique Triller-Lenoir, MEP, cochair of the MEPs Against Cancer Group.
While almost all causes of cervical cancer are linked to HPV, the virus also is associated with up to 70% of oral cancers, 90% of anal cancers, 60% of penile cancers, 75% of vaginal cancers, and 70% of vulval cancers.
Most European Union countries provide cervical cancer screenings, but not all. Also, most countries don’t yet offer HPV testing, which is now recognized as the most effective screening method, the Oral Health Foundation said.
Meanwhile, the uptake of screening varies widely across countries, as do treatment outcomes, the Oral Health Foundation said. HPV cancers in Europe are rising and are believed to be why oral cancer rates in the United Kingdom have doubled in the last generation.
“Whether you are the parent of a girl or boy, please make sure they receive the HPV vaccination without delay,” said Carter. “As the vaccine gets less effective as teenagers get older, we recommend having the vaccination as soon as it is offered in year 8.”
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