A new campaign has been launched today to address the pressing need for greater awareness about the human papillomavirus (HPV) and its potential impact on millions of men and boys in the UK every year.

Jabs for the Boys aims to improve public education about HPV and the HPV vaccination, following new research which points to a startling lack of knowledge about the infection, particularly in relation to British men.

The new initiative follows a nationwide study that found fewer than one in eight (12%) adults identify HPV with diseases that affect men – such as head and neck, anal and penile cancer – and are more than twice as likely to associate the infection with cervical cancer (27%).

HPV is responsible for around 5% of all cancers worldwide, and also genital warts, in both sexes.

Worryingly, the poll reveals more than one in three (34%) British men believe themselves not to be at risk of HPV.

HPV Action, a collaborative partnership of 48 patient and professional organisations that are working to reduce the health burden of the infection, is concerned that a lack of awareness about HPV could be putting boys and men at risk of several potentially life-threatening diseases.

Peter Baker, Campaign Director of HPV Action, the group behind Jabs for the Boys, says: ‘HPV is as likely to occur in men as it is in women (with around 80% affected at some point in their lives), yet for many, the risks to men seem to be slipping dangerously under the radar.

‘HPV is normally harmless and goes away without the person knowing they have been infected. However, for thousands of British men every year it leads to head and neck, penile, anal cancer as well as genital warts. HPV Action estimates that each year around 2,000 cancer cases and 48,000 genital warts cases are caused in men by HPV.

‘It is really important that men are able to recognise their risk and have a place to go where they can access good quality information and advice.’

The initiative’s website, www.jabsfortheboys.uk, looks to boost public knowledge of HPV while offering advice and guidance to the parents of boys, boys themselves and adult men about the pros and cons of HPV vaccination, to help them make the decision about whether to have the vaccination privately.

In the UK, schoolgirls have been vaccinated for HPV since 2008 and women over 25 have access to free cervical screening.

Boys are excluded from ‘free of charge’ HPV vaccination by the NHS while older men are without any form of screening programme for HPV-related diseases. Men who have sex with men are eligible for free vaccination at sexual health clinics but only if they are attending for another reason, such as treatment of a sexually transmitted infection.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), have been discussing whether to include adolescent boys in the nation HPV vaccination programme since 2013 and in November postponed their final decision to an unknown date in the future.

Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation and part of the Jabs for the Boys expert advisory group, explains why the new initiative is so important.

He says: 'HPV is most likely passed on through sexual contact and although condoms may reduce the risk of catching the infection, safe sex cannot completely prevent HPV. The most effective way to protect yourself against HPV is by receiving the vaccination but, before we make that decision, either for ourselves or a loved one, it is crucial that we find out more about the infection and the vaccination itself.

'One of our key principles when creating the guidance for Jabs for Boys was to only include information based on the best-possible evidence. It means that everything on the website has been checked by medical and other experts and is compiled in line with NHS England Information Standard guidance.'