HPV vaccine to be introduced for boys in Northern Ireland

All schoolgirls in the United Kingdom have been offered the human papillomavirus vaccine at the age of 12 or 13 since 2008. The test has been proven to be significantly more accurate, with the potential to detect more cancers and four times as many adenomas.

Elected representatives in Northern Ireland have welcomed two recent announcements for health protections in the region- a new and improved bowel cancer screening test and the extension of the HPV vaccine to boys.

This however will not begin until early 2020.

A very high proportion of all women under 25 have already taken up the opportunity to be vaccinated against the HPV virus since the programme was first introduced in 2008 and the intention is to protect boys through similar uptake rates. Following on from this, the charity wrote to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Mr Richard Pengelly, in August 2018 expressing concern that Northern Ireland had yet to commit to introducing FIT, despite not needing ministerial approval to do so.

HPV is spread through sexual contact, and is given in the early teens so an immune response is established before they become sexually active.

This extended programme offers the opportunity to make some HPV-related diseases and cancers a thing of the past, building on the success of the programme for girls, according to the Department of Health.

HPV is thought to cause around 2,500 cases of cancer in men each year and around 650 deaths, mainly from cancers of the throat and mouth. "If they are not carriers of the virus then they can't transmit it to unsuspecting women who have not had their own vaccines and can then develop cervical cancer", Dr Nicholson-Spence explained. "I would encourage all parents to take up this offer and ensure their boys and girls are vaccinated".

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So what does this mean for the global effort to eliminate cervical cancer? Pilots have also shown to increase uptake by around 10 per cent, and most importantly in those that have previously ignored the test and people living in deprived areas.

Today the Department of Health in Northern Ireland pledge to replace the bowel cancer screening test in the country with the new, more accurate Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) from early 2020.

The BCSP aims to pick up bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment can be 90% successful.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: "The existing test for bowel cancer has proved hugely valuable in detecting cancer early and it is therefore essential that people invited to participate in the Northern Ireland Bowel Screening programme from 60-74 continue to complete and return the test they receive in the post until the new test is available".

A HPV vaccination programme for girls was introduced across the United Kingdom in 2008. This strategy must include a commitment for an optimal bowel cancer screening programme, which includes lowering the screening age and more diagnostic capacity for overstretched services to support the delivery of this life-saving initiative.

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