And now multi-award winning Dr Ken Harris, of Riveredge Cosmetic Dentistry, is getting behind the Jabs for the Boys campaign, (www.hpvaction.org) which is lobbying for young men to be included in the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) vaccination programme.
Since 2008 girls around the age of 12 in the UK are automatically given the option to be vaccinated against HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, yet increasing numbers of men are contracting oral cancer from the virus
But although HPV is likely to occur in men as much as in women, it is currently not on offer to young boys, despite the fact that around 2000 males die every year from an HPV-related cancer.
Dr Harris, whose surgery is based in Sunderland but who is internationally renowned for his expertise and lectures around the globe, said incidents of mouth, tonsillar and oropharyngeal cancers were becoming more common place and were often related to HPV.
When I was a student more than 35 years ago I was told I would never see a case of oral cancer.
“Sadly I’ve seen 14 cases over the years, five of which led to the death of the patient. The good news is that it does have a great survival rate if it is caught early but because it can be painless it often goes unnoticed – except by a dentist.”
While the over 50s are the highest risk group for oral cancer generally, particularly in those who smoke and/or drink. Dr Harris believes that men becoming sexually active at a younger age is leading to more cases being identified and can be linked with oral sex.
He added that “ vaccination of adult men is often too late as many have become infected at an earlier age. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are particularly at risk.”
“HPV is transmitted by sexual contact and as a practising dentist I am likely to see the signs of mouth and tonsillar cancer which is linked with oral sex, with the most high profile case being that of the Hollywood actor, Michael Douglas,” he said.
Research shows that HPV is likely to affect 80 per cent of men at some time in their lives and while it is normally harmless, it still carries the risk of causing cancer.
Dr Harris is now fully behind the Jab for the Boys campaign set up by HPV Action; a partnership which includes the Faculty of General Dental Practice UK of which Dr Harris is also an accredited Fellow.
He has also stressed the important of patients getting oral cancer screening as part of their dental check-ups.
“It’s widely known that HPV is linked through sexual contact with cervical cancer but by comparison relatively few people seem to recognise how dangerous HPV can also be to men,” he said.
“It’s not only important for people to get behind this campaign and also to ensure that they make themselves aware of the information that is available.”