Current health policy on oral cancer is unfair, unethical and socially irresponsible to men, a Conservative MP and practising dentist has claimed.
Sir Paul Beresford, who has his own dental practice, suggested that half the population was being failed by the current system of offering the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine only to women.
Addressing health minister Jane Ellison during an adjournment debate on oral cancer, he said: “Men currently face the significant and rising risk of HPV-associated disease.
“So I put it to you that it it’s not fair, ethically or socially responsible, to have a public health policy that leaves 50% of the population vulnerable to infection.”
Calling on Ms Ellison to extend the programme to men, he said: “Such vaccination, combined with early detection and action on smoking, heavy drinking and alcohol could save a huge number of lives just as we’re facing this dramatic increase in oral cancer.”
Sir Paul said that around 6,000 new cases were being diagnosed every year, with 1,800 annual deaths related to the disease.
“The total number of cases per annum has been steadily rising for the past decade, to the extent that we are now seeing 35% of new cases more per year than 30 years ago.”
He said raising awareness among dentists, as well as doctors, was also important.
“That lump, that ulcer, particularly if it is painless in the mouth, needs to be seen by a dentist. More dentists should be aware, more dentists should be looking at the soft tissue and not just the teeth.”
Sir Paul said that at the current rate, if the trend of oral cancers continued to increase, the number of men being diagnosed with oral cancer would overtake the number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer, another HPV disease, by 2020.
“Obviously, this trend is going to be affected by the success of the HPV vaccines. These are advocated for women in this country, but not for men. This really is a little odd, as it appears that fewer men than women produce an immune response to HPV infection. But, of course, HPV vaccines protect against HPV infection and disease including cancers in men, as well as women,” he said.
Ms Ellison said that HPV protection had experienced one of the highest uptakes of any vaccination programme in the developed world.
“If we can reduce the incidence of HPV in females, through high uptake of the national vaccination programme, a reduction of other HPV-associated cancers in females and males is likely to follow,” she said.
In October 2013, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) agreed to set up a sub-committee on HPV vaccination to assess, among other issues, the question of extending the programme to men who have sex with men, to adolescent boys or both.
Ms Ellison said: “The sub-committee is set to meet on January 20 for the first time, where it will assess currently available scientific evidence and also consider what further evidence is required to advise the committee on suitability of changes to the HPV programme.”
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