Efforts to persuade Government to vaccinate school-aged boys, as well as girls against the human papilloma virus (HPV) have been continuing across the UK in recent months.
In July, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which has been reviewing the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination programme in the UK produced its interim finding that it was, 'highly unlikely to be cost-effective' to extend the scheme to include adolescent boys as well as girls'.
Since then, the British Dental Association, along with other members of HPV Action has been actively campaigning to have this flawed interim finding overturned.
The incidence of oral cancer has increased dramatically over the last decade, with over two thirds of diagnoses in men.
Moreover, HPV has emerged as the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer, linked to five per cent of all cancers worldwide. Over 2,000 men in the UK are diagnosed each year with HPV-related-cancer –of whom almost half will die from the condition within five years. Current vaccination measures are clearly not working for everyone.
With dentists often being the first to spot the tell-tale signs of oral cancer, and knowing how easily these cancers could be prevented by a simple injection, it is no surprise that 97 per cent of dentists are in favour of a gender-neutral approach to vaccination, according to a recent BDA survey.
The situation in Northern Ireland: HPV vaccinations
Closer to home, BDA Northern Ireland has been very active in making the case to have the HPV vaccine extended to boys, and in promoting better oral health.
In October, BDA representatives had a very productive meeting with Paula Bradshaw MLA, Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly's influential All Party Group on Cancer, and briefed her on the HPV vaccine issue.
A number of opportunities were discussed, including BDA taking an active role in forthcoming All Party Group meetings.
We have also recently opened conversations with leading Northern Ireland cancer charity, Cancer Focus NI, and are exploring some form of joint initiative aimed at highlighting the importance of regular oral health checks, and the vital role played by dental practitioners in the context of Mouth Cancer Action Month (MCAM). More details to follow later in November.
The JCVI's final advice is expected in late November, which aptly coincides with MCAM.
The BDA is supporting MCAM and encourages all dentists to get involved, they have useful resources on their website – and please get in touch and tell us what you are doing during the month to help promote awareness to your patients.
BDA Northern Ireland Director
Oral cancer toolkit for dental health professionals
Our free oral cancer toolkit is designed to help dental health professionals to identify and refer possible cases of oral cancer, and was developed with Cancer Research UK.
Dentists and their teams have a vital role to play in ensuring oral cancers are detected early and patients are informed about the risk factors: early detection results in a roughly 90 per cent survival rate, compared to a 50 per cent survival rate for delayed diagnosis.