In 2008, the first national vaccination programme against cancer began in the UK.
That year, teenage girls began to be offered immunisation against Human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes almost all cervical cancers.
The virus is picked up by most sexually active adults and in many is harmless, but in some women can lead to the illness.
The introduction of the vaccine was a major step forward and it is believed will save 400 lives a year in the UK.
But it is currently only offered to girls in this country.
Health bosses believe that where take-up exceeds 80 per cent, as most women are covered, boys don’t also need to have the jab – even though it can be linked to many cancers which affect men too, and men can pick up the virus from unvaccinated women or other men.
Now a campaign has been launched to urge the Government to enable teenage boys to have the vaccine too.
HPV is the cause in 5 per cent of all human cancers, and in those also affecting men, is estimated to be associated with up to 90 per cent of anal cancers, 60 per cent of penile cancers and 75 per cent of tonsillar and base-of-tongue cancers.
HPV Action, a new coalition of 25 charities, patient and professional organisations, says the Government should act immediately to prevent boys in the UK from being at risk from these cancers, rates of which have increased over the past two decades.
It’s a cause which Will De Nardo and his family feel very strongly about.
His mum Jill was diagnosed with anal cancer in June 2010, needing chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat the illness.
Will, who works in Leeds, said that though his granddad had died from bowel cancer, his mum’s diagnosis came as a massive shock.
“We were quite aware of things like that,” the 25-year-old said. “But it was absolutely devastating. My mum is the rock of our family and we always call her superwoman. She’s the one who keeps us all sane and together.”
Thankfully, Jill responded well to treatment and she has recovered, now just having regular check-ups.
“My mum was very lucky that she got through it,” he added.
“Some people are not that fortunate.”
Will admits he didn’t know anything about HPV before his mum’s illness, but once he found out more, was surprised about how easy it is to prevent and about its links to cancers – not just cervical.
“For a long time the HPV jab was billed as a ‘cervical cancer jab’. That’s a massive myth,” he said.
The USA, Australia, and some Canadian provinces now offer the HPV vaccine to boys – but in the UK, it is still restricted to girls.
HPV Action estimates that extending the vaccine to 367,000 currently unprotected 12-year old boys will cost the UK government £24m a year.
Will’s whole family are now supporting the drive, including his sister Ellie, who has worked for the HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation – a charity he has also fundraised for.
“The reason we are supporting this campaign is that we don’t want anyone else to go through what she did,” said Will, a social media content executive at Sky Bet, said.
“We’d urge everyone to get online and sign the petition on this.
“For me it’s an absolute no-brainer. If there’s something which can prevent so many cases of cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?”
Peter Baker, HPV Action’s Campaign Director said: “For a cost equivalent to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s salary, about £24m a year, we can protect 367,000 boys a year against the future risk of a range of cancers as well as the very common problem of genital warts.
“Vaccinating girls alone is not enough to tackle HPV – men can still get the virus HPV from unvaccinated women from the UK and other countries or from other men. It is simply unfair to deny boys in the UK the same level of protection as girls or as boys in Australia and other countries where both sexes are now routinely vaccinated. HPV vaccination is one of the easiest ways of preventing cancer.”
Sign the online petition via www.hpvaction.org.