Boys aged 12-13 in Northern Ireland are to be offered a vaccine to protect them against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) related cancers. The Department is also introducing a better test for bowel cancer to increase uptake rates and to detect more cancers earlier.
From September this year the HPV vaccine will be offered to all boys in year nine at school.
In addition, it has been decided that the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) will replace the Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test as the primary screening test for bowel cancer in the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (BCSP) in Northern Ireland.
Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “I am very pleased to be able to announce both these decisions today.
“The evidence is clear in both cases that very significant health protection benefits can be achieved for our citizens.
“Both decisions have been under active consideration for some time and can now be made, following confirmation of the Department’s budget allocation for this year.”
A very high proportion of all women under 25 have already taken up the opportunity to be vaccinated against the HPV virus since the programme was first introduced in 2008 and the intention is to protect boys through similar uptake rates.
This extended programme offers the opportunity to make some HPV-related diseases and cancers a thing of the past building on the success of the programme in girls. The prevalence of the main HPV cancer-causing types 16 and 18 has already been reduced by over 80%.
Commenting on the HPV announcement, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said:
“We can now look forward to a future where we can be even more confident that we will reduce cervical cancer and other HPV related cancers that affect both men and women.
“This is an effective vaccine against a particularly harmful virus. I would encourage all parents to take up this offer and ensure their boys and girls are vaccinated.”
The new FIT bowel screening test will be introduced from early 2020.
Evidence has shown there is increased patient acceptability of the FIT screening test and increased uptake of screening will mean even more lives can be saved.
Every year in Northern Ireland there are around 1100 new cases of bowel cancer, with over 400 deaths. The Bowel Cancer Screening Programme aims to pick up bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment can be 90% successful.
Dr McBride commented: “The existing test for bowel cancer has proved hugely valuable in detecting cancer early and it is therefore essential that people invited to participate in the Northern Ireland Bowel Screening programme from 60-74 continue to complete and return the test they receive in the post until the new test is available.”
Extending the HPV vaccination programme to include adolescent boys is based on advice from the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) an independent panel of experts that provides advice to the four UK Health Departments.
The extension of the vaccine to boys builds on the success of Northern Ireland’s HPV vaccination programme for girls which started in 2008 and the HPV programme for men who have sex with men (MSM) introduced in 2016.
In January 2016, the UK National Screening Committee recommended that quantitative Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) should be adopted by the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (BCSP) as the primary screening test for bowel cancer.