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The call was made as the RCPI hosted a conference called ‘The Opportunity to Eliminate HPV cancers’.
“While the HPV vaccine is currently offered to girls to protect them against cervical cancer, it is essential that boys are also protected from cancers, such as those of the head and neck that are often caused by HPV infection,” said Professor Mary Horgan, President of the RCPI and a consultant in infectious diseases.
“There is an approximate 20 per cent increase in oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. Nearly 50 per cent of this rise in oropharyngeal disease is directly related to HPV, with almost 80 per cent of those occurring in men, yet there is little awareness of the risks to men.
“Recent research to gauge awareness of HPV-related infections and cancers in men found that about 60 per cent of Irish adults are aware that it can affect both men and women. And worryingly 87 per cent believe they have never been exposed to the virus,“ Prof Horgan said.
Addressing the morning session of the conference Head of the HSE National Immunisation Office Dr Brenda Corcoran outlined the recent measures taken by the Executive and other healthcare bodies to help increase the uptake of the vaccine, which had fallen in recent years.
The most recent statistics shows the uptake level among schoolgirls increasing from the approximately 50 per cent low it had fallen to. Dr Corcoran said she was “hopeful” that this upward trend would continue.
Dr Corinna Sadlier, consultant in infectious diseases is also addressing today’s event. She outlined the “case for gender neutral vaccination”.
“Unvaccinated boys remain at risk from a range of serious HPV associated diseases that could be prevented by the HPV vaccine. Provision of HPV vaccine for girls only will not fully protect boys and represents a significant health inequality that must be urgently addressed,” she said.