The vast majority of parents in Ireland underestimate just how prevalent human papillomavirus (HPV) is, new research has shown.
HPV is a family of common viruses that are passed on via sexual contact. There are many types of HPV, most of which are harmless and go away on their own. However, some strains can be serious, such as those that cause certain types of cancer and pre-cancerous lesions.
For example, HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, which kills around 90 women in Ireland every year.
In an effort to combat this, the HSE offers the HPV vaccination to girls in their first year of secondary school. However, a new campaign, ‘Not Just for Girls', aims to raise awareness of the importance of boys getting vaccinated against HPV as well.
Research carried out on behalf of the campaign has found that while HPV is now so common, 80% of Irish men and women will get it at some point in their lives, 95% of parents underestimate just how prevalent it is.
Currently in Ireland, 27% of all HPV-related cancer diagnoses occur in men. However, parents have a low understanding about the risk of HPV-related cancers in men.
For example, just 8% of Irish parents believe that the leading cause of throat (oropharyngeal) cancer in men is due to a HPV infection. This is despite the fact that up to half of all throat cancers can be caused by HPV infection.
In fact, people who are diagnosed with HPV are 16-times more likely to be diagnosed with this type of cancer.
Despite this low awareness among parents, the research found that 47% of parents of boys under the age of 18 would consider getting their sons vaccinated against the virus.
"We are seeing more and more HPV-related cancers recently in men as well as women, so I feel it is important to consider vaccinating boys as well as girls.
"Administering the HPV vaccine to both boys and girls is the most effective way of preventing a range of cancers caused by the virus, yet it's currently only available free to girls in their first year of secondary school," commented Dr Philip Kieran, from the RTÉ One series, You Should Really See A Doctor.
The campaign is being run by Irish Life Health. The research for the campaign was carried out by iReach in April and involved 1,001 people nationwide.
For more information on HPV and the vaccine, click here
*Pictured at the launch of the campaign is Clodagh Kane (12) from Swords in Dublin, Dr Philip Kieran, and Conor O'Brien (12) from Clarehall in Dublin