Skip to content
News / February 3, 2010

HPV vaccine to aid mouth cancer fight

by Guy Hiscott

Professor Ian Frazer, human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine co-inventor, believes the HPV vaccine will reduce the incidence of oral cancers, which is increasing among young people practising oral sex.

Speaking in advance of the Irish Cancer Society’s Charles Cully memorial lecture, Prof. Frazer welcomed the Minister for Health’s recent decision to roll out the HPV vaccination programme to 30,000 girls who are in their first year of secondary school.

The professor, who is based in Brisbane, Australia, said: ‘Experience shows that uptake rates are highest where the vaccination programmes are rolled out in schools as opposed to in GP practices. For example, Scotland rolled out its schools-based vaccination programme in September 2008 and by December 2009 the programme had achieved an 89% uptake level. Uptake rates are even higher when the programme is run on an ‘opt-out’ as opposed to ‘opt-in’ basis.’

Also speaking in advance of the lecture, Dr Grainne Flannelly, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Chair of the Irish Cancer Society’s Medical Committee, said: ‘Once the vaccination programme is in place, we would also ask that the Minister looks for ways to deliver a catch-up programme for 13 to15-year-old girls as originally planned. These three generations of girls should not lose out on this important cancer preventative measure.’

New and emerging evidence on the side effect profile of HPV vaccines confirms their safety. A major study published in JAMA in August 2009, which related to 2.5 years experience of administering 23 million doses of the vaccine, showed that for every 100,000 doses of the vaccine, only 53 adverse events were reported and these were largely minor and included fainting, local pain and dizziness. The overall death rate following administration of the HPV vaccine is 0.1 in every 100,000 cases (1 in a million). 

About 70% of mouth cancers are detected at a late stage due to poor knowledge of warning signs. This often results in lower chances of survival, however early detection transforms survival chances to more than 90%.