The survey, undertaken by oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation, revealed that HPV is considerably less well known than all other major Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and the vast majority of respondents were unaware of its links to cervical and mouth cancer.
Less than half (42 per cent) of respondents were aware of HPV compared to high ratings across the board for other common STIs including HIV (97 per cent), Chlamydia (93 per cent), Herpes (92 per cent), Gonorrhoea (90 per cent) and Syphilis (89 per cent).
Only a quarter of respondents (25 per cent) were aware that HPV was a cause of cervical cancer. Only one in 20 respondents identified HPV as a cause of mouth cancer transmitted via oral sex.
The survey questioned both parents with children aged 12 to 16, as well as young people aged 12 to 16. The findings suggest that the current sex education curriculum in schools may need to be reviewed to ensure greater awareness and discussion of HPV.
Last year a total of 482,696 new STI cases were reported in the UK1. It is thought that at least 50 per cent of sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives2.
The survey also questioned the role played by parents in the sex education of their children. The Foundation discovered that around one in five parents (19 per cent) had no intention of providing sex education to their children. A further 17 per cent were undecided.
The results, published ahead of the Foundation’s Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign in November, which is supported by Denplan, aims to raise awareness of HPV – considered to be the fastest growing cause of mouth cancer. Experts predict HPV will overtake the current main risk factors of alcohol and tobacco, within the next 10 years. Without early detection, an estimated 30,000 people in the UK will die from mouth cancer in the next decade.
Foundation Chief Executive Dr Nigel Carter said: “For many people discussing sex education, including sexually transmitted infections remains a taboo subject. Although sex education in schools is working for most sexually transmitted infections, the results point to a clear gap in not just young people’s knowledge of HPV, but parents and the general public’s too.
“The mere presence of HPV as a risk factor for mouth cancer means the traditional risk age of over 40 no longer applies, as sufferers are getting younger. It is therefore crucial that everyone knows the potential signs of mouth cancer. These include ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, white and red patches in the mouth and lumps or swellings in the mouth. Our message to everyone is clear, if in doubt, get checked out.”
3. Research findings:
The Foundation surveyed 802 respondents in September 2011, including 183 people aged 12-16 and 206 parents of children aged 12-16. The findings for 12-16 year olds included:
•HPV is the least well known sexually transmitted disease (42 per cent).
•Less than one in 20 people (4 per cent) know HPV is a cause of mouth cancer.
•Only 1 in 3 women (31 per cent) know HPV is linked to cervical cancer.
•53 per cent of young people support HPV vaccination for boys.
•19 per cent of parents don’t intend to talk to their children about sex education; 17 per cent are undecided.