All boys should be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus in order to prevent rocketing levels of mouth and throat cancer, new research suggests.
Rates of oral cancer among young people in Britain have more than doubled in the last three decades fuelled mainly by the sexual revolution, claim scientists.
Whereas smoking and drinking used to be the major cause of the disease it is now caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), the same one that causes cervical cancer in girls.
A previous study has shown that people who have had oral sex with more than six partners were 8.6 times more likely to develop the cancer than those who had never indulged in it.
Smokers were only three times more likely to get throat cancer and drinkers just two and a half times.
Now the situation has become so grave that a leading cancer specialist is calling for governments to seriously consider vaccinating boys against the virus before they start having sex.
Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, Dr Maura Gillison, of Ohio State University, a leading researcher into HPV, said it was time to consider the option.
She said: “When my patients ask whether they should vaccinate their sons I say ‘certainly’.
“The vaccine will protect them against genital warts and anal cancer and also as a potential byproduct of that it may protect them against oral cancer caused by HPV.”
Whereas incidence has been going down for those over 70, in people below fifty it has more than doubled since 1975.
Dr Gillison said that recent studies showed that there was a 200pc increase in the amount of cancer caused by HPV in the last 20 years.
Studies from Sweden which has similar levels to Britain has shown that 90pc of all oral cancers are caused by HPV rather than
“There is data from Scandanavia, largely from Sweden, looking at HPV in tonsular cancers and demonstrating that in the 1970s, about a quarter of these in Sweden were HPV positive but, by mid 2000s, that had increased by 90pc,” she said.
“What is most strongly linked to oral HPV infection is the number of sexual partners someone has had in their lifetimes, in particular the number of individuals on whom they have performed oral sex.
“The higher the number of partners that you’ve had, the greater the odds that you’d have an oral infection.”
She said that the evidence was compelling that HPV was causing oral cancer and that the World Health Organisation had declared the link to be strong.
She said having HPV means you have a 14-fold increase in the chances of acquiring oral cancer.
A study found a vaccine against HPV for cervical cancer known as Gardasil was 98pc effective in tests and could be used to vaccinate boys too.
She said that incidence in the virus had increased in people born after 1935. She said that “sexual revolution of the 60s” had made a once rare virus much more common.