Virus causes one third of throat cancers

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A VIRUS is thought to be the direct cause of one third of all throat cancers affecting Wiganers.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is the major cause of cervical cancer, and the virus is known to spread through genital or oral contact.

Earlier this year, charities urged Wigan schoolboys to take up the HPV vaccine to protect against throat cancer.

The jab was introduced in 2008 for girls, to immunise them against the virus that causes cervical cancer.

The Throat Cancer Foundation says the vaccine protects against other cancers.

It has urged the government to extend the programme to all 12-year-olds.

Jamie Rae, head of the Throat Cancer Foundation, called the disease a “ticking time bomb” and said the current girl-only vaccination programme was discriminatory.

Experts said a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which quantifies the link, showed “striking” results.

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Most people will be infected with HPV at some point, but in most the immune system will offer protection.

There are two HPV strains which are most likely to cause cancer - HPV-16 and HPV-18.

HPV-16 is thought to be responsible for around 60 per cent of cervical cancers, 80 per cent of cancers in the anus and 60 per cent of oral cancers.

Around 1,500 people are diagnosed with throat cancers each year in the UK, with around 470 people dying from the disease.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “HPV is an extremely common virus.

“Practising safer sex may reduce the risk of getting or passing on HPV, but condoms won’t stop infections completely.”

She added: “If the HPV vaccine can also protect against oral HPV infections and cancers, then it could have a broader potential protective effect, but we don’t have enough research yet to tell us. “

The vaccine currently used in the UK protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, and types six and 11, which cause genital warts in males and females.

But HPV has also been linked, although less strongly, with other cancers including oropharyngeal – or throat – cancer.

A Department of Health representative said: “Vaccination of boys was not recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation because once 80 per cent coverage among girls has been achieved.”