Year 8 boys are to be offered free HPV vaccines for the first time from September, a move that could prevent over 100,000 cancers. Worldwide, about 5% of all cancers are linked to the HPV virus.

This includes cervical, penile, anal and genital cancers and some cancers of the head and neck – all of which the vaccine helps to protect against. Cervical cancer is currently the most common cancer in women under 35, killing around 850 women each year. HPV is thought to be responsible for over 99% of cervical cancers, as well as 90% of anal, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers and more than 60% of penile cancers.

Modelling produced by the University of Warwick estimates that by 2058 in the UK the HPV vaccine currently being used may have prevented up to 64,138 HPV-related cervical cancers and 49,649 other HPV-related cancers.  This would be 50 years after the introduction of the HPV vaccination programme, when people who were vaccinated as teenagers have reached the age groups that they would typically be affected by HPV-related cancers.

Opportunity to make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past

Head of Immunisation at Public Health England (PHE) Dr Mary Ramsay said: "This universal programme offers us the opportunity to make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past and build on the success of the girls’ programme.

"Offering the vaccine to boys will not only protect them but will also prevent more cases of HPV-related cancers in girls and reduce the overall burden of these cancers in both men and women in the future. I encourage all parents of eligible boys and girls to make sure they take up the offer for this potentially life-saving vaccine. It’s important not to delay vaccination, as the vaccine may be less effective as adolescents get older."

Dr David Elliman, Immunisation Expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said that because of herd immunity, there has also been a reduction in HPV infection in males but the most effective way to protect them is for them to have the vaccine themselves.

He added: "Therefore, we welcome the introduction of the vaccination programme for Year 8 boys in September. In time, this will lead to a significant reduction in cancers of the anus, penis and head and neck. The latter is currently increasing in incidence, but this trend will be turned around as the vaccination programme takes effect in the future.”