The HPV vaccine has struggled to gain widespread adoption among adolescent girls for the prevention of cervical cancer, and its use among boys for HPV-related diseases ranks even lower. However, a study makes the case for boosting rates of HPV vaccination in boys by arguing that doing so could save governments millions of dollars in long-term healthcare expenses. Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

Governments in Canada, Australia and the United States recommend the HPV vaccine for adolescent boys, but the national health plans and vaccination programs in those same countries still typically only cover the vaccine for young girls. An analysis shows covering the vaccine for both boys and girls may not only improve the health of citizens, but could also save these health care systems millions of dollars in long-term treatment costs.

The HPV vaccine inoculates recipients against diseases stemming from the human papillomavirus. Adolescent girls have long been the primary targets of vaccine outreach and policy for the prevention of cervical cancer. However, throat cancer can also develop from this sexually transmitted virus, and cases of throat cancer are expected to outpace those of cervical cancer in the U.S. in the next five years, Dr. Donna Graham, an oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto who led the latest study, said in a statement. Throat cancer is about three times more likely to occur in men than in women.

Graham and her collaborators reasoned administering the HPV vaccine to boys could not only prevent throat cancer, but might also save health care systems money by reducing the long-term expenses of caring for cancer patients. The team ran an economic analysis to determine whether the long-term savings associated with giving the vaccine, which costs about $316 dollars per patient, to a group of eighth-grade boys would overcome the initial costs.

The team found the Canadian health care system saves $6 million to $22 million ($8 million to $28 million in Canadian dollars) for every 192,000 boys who are inoculated. The HPV vaccine is currently only covered for girls in Canadian health plans, the Toronto Star reported. Their study was published Monday in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.

Those cost savings are likely even greater in the U.S. where the average patient with throat cancer with private insurance will run up $79,151 in treatment costs in the first year after diagnosis. A comparable course of treatment in the Canadian health care system costs about $20,000.

The analysis did not consider additional cost savings that could be earned by preventing other HPV-linked diseases in boys, including anal and penile cancers or genital warts. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend both girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine when they turn 11 or 12 years old.