Calls to immunise teenage boys after huge rise in throat cancer

Cases of oropharyngeal cancer have more than doubled to over 1,000 annually since the mid-1990s after remaining stable for many years, Professor Hisham Mehanna, director of the Institute of Head and Neck Studies in Coventry reports.

The Department of Health requested the latest figures from Professor Hisham Mehanna, who has surveyed the incidence of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer in the UK and other countries. “We are experiencing a very significant rise in oropharyngeal cancer. It used to be rare in our practice – now [head and neck cancer] is the most common cancer we see. All the studies show there is a strong association with oral sex.” It is also occurring in younger patients.

More than 70 per cent of cases are caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), compared with less than a third a decade ago. HPV is transmitted during sex, including oral sex and also possibly spread by open-mouth kissing. HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer in women, affecting almost 3,000 women a year in the UK.

Currently women are offered HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. The quadrivalent vaccine also protests against genital warts in both women and also their male partners and is now being advocated by the Department of Health.

The US is considering offering HPV vaccine to men.


  1. Diane says:

    I am 49 and 2 years out from being treated for throat cancer. What will it take for the Government to wake up and realise vaccination of boys will be cheaper than treating patients who present with this awful disease!

    When I was diagnosed in August 2009 my own GP had no idea HPV could cause this cancer, until I told her … if she had it might not have taken so long for her to send me to the consultant.

    Awareness needs to be raised urgently. I have a facebook page to help patients ( … and through this we are all trying to spread the word – we know, we’ve been there and would not wish this on anyone.

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