Published: 11 January 2024
A father of two who received treatment for head and neck cancer has joined calls from health experts for eligible groups to take up their offer of vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) and protect their future from preventable cancers.
David Edwards, 58, from St Mellons in Cardiff, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour at the junction of his tonsils and tongue in 2022 after noticing a small lump on the underside of his jaw. Around the time of his biopsy, he tested positive for HPV 16, an HPV type known to increase risk of cancer.
HPV is the name given to a group of common viruses that affect the skin. There are more than 100 types of this virus and more than eight in ten people who have not received the HPV vaccine will catch it at some point in their lives.
Chris Johnson, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, said: “Most HPV infections do not show any symptoms, will clear from the body naturally, and will not result in any serious health problems for most people. However, some cases can cause genital warts or changes in cells that can then develop into certain types of cancer. Cancers linked to high-risk HPV include cervical cancer, some types of head and neck cancer, and other cancers of the genitals and anus.
“The HPV vaccine is a highly effective, one-dose vaccine that is offered to all children at year eight secondary school age and this protects them into their future by giving them long-lasting protection from HPV viruses and the cancers that they can then cause.
“We encourage all parents to look out for information about the HPV vaccine coming home from school, discuss it with your child and return the consent form as soon as possible, to ensure their future health is protected.”
Those eligible for the HPV vaccine include:
Everyone aged 12 to 13 (school year eight)
Young people who have missed their HPV vaccination when it was offered up until their 25th birthday if they are a girl, or boys born after 1 September 2006
Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) up to the age of 45
HPV Immunisation will begin in schools in Wales from the start of the spring term (January) and will continue until the end of the summer term. Parents and guardians will be informed and asked for their permission for their child to receive the vaccine.
(Image credit: Matthew Horwood.)
Fortunately, David Edward’s tumour was identified early. Following surgeries to remove the tumour, his tonsils and part of his tongue, he received chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“I actually made an appointment to see my GP as I had a hernia,” David said. “As I was leaving, I said by the way could you have a look at this small lump on the underside of my jaw. It didn’t hurt, but it was becoming visible, and I had no other symptoms.
“I went to have an ultrasound and a biopsy. They found a secondary tumour in the lymph node, and they went on to find the primary. In December 2022 I had the tumour removed and started chemotherapy and radiotherapy six weeks later.
“They’ve been happy with everything since I’ve been back for check-ups. I just have a couple of ongoing issues mainly around my voice, and my mouth or throat being dry.”
David said he would encourage all eligible people to get their HPV vaccine to protect their own health and help work towards eradicating the virus in the future.
“You’d like to think that 30 years down the line, the incidence of cancers like mine, as well as cervical cancer, would be negligible due to the rising herd immunity of generations of people being vaccinated against HPV.”
Getting an HPV vaccination is the best way to protect a person against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts, cervical cancer, and other types of cancer. The vaccination is now usually offered as a single dose injection in the top part of the arm and given to boys and girls aged 12 and 13-year-old in school.
January is cervical cancer awareness month. Since the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2008, rates of cervical cancer have reduced by almost 90 percent in women in their 20s who were offered the vaccine at 12 to 13 years of age. Clinicians believe rates could fall even further if vaccine uptake remains high in coming years, and that elimination of cervical cancers is possible through raising awareness, vaccination, screening and early detection and treatment.
Dr Lee Campbell, Head of Research at Cancer Research Wales, said: “Caused by common and usually harmless types of viruses known as HPV, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in women under the age of 35. Our own studies have shown the life-changing effects HPV can have on younger men in causing some types of head and neck cancer.
“With over 15 years of evidence, vaccines to protect against HPV are shown to be a very safe and extremely effective way to reduce the incidence of a number of HPV-related cancers, giving the opportunity for these diseases to be resigned to the history books once and for all.”