HPV Vaccine: Maybe Not Just for Girls

HPV vaccination for oropharyngeal cancer protection may be cost-effective in boys

(RxWiki News) Girls may receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to help prevent later cervical cancer. In boys, the vaccine may be important in protecting against another rapidly growing cancer threat.

A new study found that HPV vaccination in boys could be a cost-effective method to prevent oropharyngeal cancer.

Donna M. Graham, MB, BCh, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Toronto, Canada, co-led this study.

"We believe this study is important because HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer has increased significantly in incidence, especially in developed countries," Dr. Graham said in a press release.

Dr. Graham and team used computer modeling to assess the cost and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine in 12-year-old Canadian boys. The data used in the model were collected from patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer treated at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center from 2000 to 2010.

Oropharyngeal cancer affects the back of the throat, tonsils or base of the tongue.

The study included a population of over 190,000 boys who were 12 years old in 2012. Dr. Graham and team found that the HPV vaccine could potentially save between $8 and 28 million (Canadian dollars) in health care costs over the patients' lifetimes

Vaccine uptake, vaccine effectiveness, HPV infection rate, cancer treatment cost and survival rates could all affect the overall savings, Dr. Graham and team noted.

With the increased risk of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer in men, vaccination in boys may be crucial in prevention efforts, Dr. Graham said.

"It is projected that by 2020, HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer will become the most common HPV-related cancer in the U.S., surpassing cervical cancer," Dr. Graham said.

Adam C. Powell, PhD, a health care economist and president of Payer+Provider, told dailyRx News that this study simplified a complex issue.

"One simplification in the paper is that it only considers a population of boys, while HPV is a communicable disease," Dr. Powell said. "A societal perspective can be used to better understand its full benefits. If nearly all Canadian girls are vaccinated, heterosexual boys will be largely protected from HPV through herd immunity, lowering the cost-effectiveness of vaccination. However, the article states that only between 50-85% of Canadian girls are vaccinated. As a result, increasing the vaccination rate of Canadian boys will have a positive impact on the health of the unvaccinated Canadian girls. Since only the boys’ health is considered by the model, the overall societal health benefits may be even greater."

Many countries recommend HPV vaccines for boys, but they are often unfunded and not included in many vaccination programs.

"We hope that results from this study would raise awareness and lead to further assessment of this important public health issue," said study co-leader Dr. Lillian L. Siu, also of the Princess Margaret Cancer Center, in a press release.

Patients should speak with their doctors about the risks and benefits of vaccines.

This study was published online April 13 in the journal Cancer.

The authors disclosed no funding sources. Study co-author Dr. Geoffrey Liu served on the advisory boards of Pfizer and Novartis.

Review Date: 
April 10, 2015