Gillies McIndoe Research Institute backs extension of free human papillomavirus vaccinations to boys


A micrograph of HPV induced throat cancer demonstrated in brown colour

Renowned plastic surgeon and cancer researcher Dr Swee Tan has come out in support of PHARMAC’s proposal to introduce free vaccinations to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) induced throat cancers.

PHARMAC is proposing to extend the free anti-cancer vaccine, known as Gardasil, to include year 8 boys, and widen the access for females and males to the age of 26, from January 2017.

The founder and executive director of the Wellington-based Gillies McIndoe Research Institute (GMRI) says the move will save lives and prevent suffering from HPV-induced throat cancer.

The GMRI team led by Dr Tan, in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team caring for patients with head and neck cancer, consisting of specialists from the Wellington Blood and Cancer Centre and Department of Otolaryngology at Wellington Regional Hospital and the Wellington Regional Plastic, Maxillofacial and Burns Unit and Department of Pathology at Hutt Hospital, have investigated the incidence and impact of HPV-induced throat cancer in New Zealand from 1994 to 2014. They have just published their work in an international journal.

“Our study shows the increased prevalence of HPV-induced throat cancer in New Zealand, and demonstrates its disproportionate burden on New Zealand men.”

It demonstrates that 81 percent of patients diagnosed with throat cancer during the study period were males.  It also shows that the prevalence of HPV-induced throat cancer increased from 24 percent during 1994 – 1999 to 76 percent during 2009 – 2014.

“Our study highlights a four-fold greater burden of throat cancer in men and a tripling of the proportion of HPV-induced throat cancer over the 20-year study period,” Dr Tan said.

The study also shows that patients with HPV-induced throat cancer were 10 years younger at the time of diagnosis and they died 9 years earlier compared with patients with non-HPV induced throat cancers.

“Throat cancer and its treatment have devastating impacts on the quality of life and daily functioning of the patients.

Dr Tan said HPV vaccination of both sexes would reduce the prevalence of HPV carriage. Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada already offer the vaccine free to boys as part of their immunisation programmes.

“Throat carcinoma is the second most common cancer associated with HPV. It has been estimated that by 2020 the incidence of HPV-induced throat cancer will be greater than the incidence of cervical cancer and that, in the United States, half of all head and neck cancers will be HPV-related by 2030.
“Immunisation covering high-risk HPV subtypes 6, 11, 16, and 18 was introduced in Australia for girls in 2007 and extended to boys in 2013. In New Zealand, the vaccination of girls commenced in 2008. However, it has not yet been extended to boys.
“We support and commend PHARMAC’s proposal to extend HPV vaccination to boys in New Zealand. It is a cost-effective way to prevent HPV-related throat cancer and other HPV-induced cancers in both men and women,” Dr Tan said.

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