Many of us have heard of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The profile of this common virus has greatly increased in recent years due to the discovery of a link between HPV and cervical cancer in women, and subsequent national vaccination programme. Initially the HPV vaccine was offered only to adolescent girls aged 12-13, but this is about to change. This week, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued a statement advising the adoption of a gender-neutral vaccination programme. This was followed by an announcement from the Welsh Health Secretary Vaughan Gething confirming that adolescent boys across Wales will indeed be offered the HPV vaccination.
This announcement follows a lengthy process of review and mounting evidence to suggest that HPV vaccination could be effective in preventing non-cervical cancers. One important study conducted in Wales was led by Dr Mererid Evans and Dr Ned Powell, and funded by Cancer Research Wales. In this study, the research team examined the link between HPV and throat cancers. They tested tumours from over 100 men and women diagnosed with a certain type of throat cancer and found that over half of them tested positive for HPV. Moreover, the two types of cancer were clinically distinct, with HPV-positive cancers associated with better 5 year survival rates compared to HPV-negative cancers.
HPV vaccination in girls has been a great success, with cervical cancer rates expected to significantly decrease as a combined result of the vaccination scheme and national cervical screening programme. Given that HPV has been associated with a number of other non-cervical cancers in addition to throat cancer, it is hoped that a gender-neutral vaccination programme will further reduce the cancer burden. We are proud to support scientists making a real difference to change the cancer landscape here in Wales and beyond!