THE vaccination against cervical cancer offered to all 12-year-old girls in Scotland should also be offered to boys, campaigners have told MSPs.

Jamie Rae, of the Throat Cancer Foundation, said the human papillomavirus (HPV) that can lead to the disease causes a range of cancers, mainly of the throat and genitals, in both sexes.

Mr Rae, who contracted the virus and was diagnosed three years ago with throat cancer as a result, said all the cancers caused by HPV could be devastating, even if sufferers survive.

He urged MSPs to back proposals to give the vaccination to boys as well as girls, saying: "We face a global epidemic."

An estimated 80% of adults will contract the skinborne virus by the time they reach middle age and, while most will fight it off, HPV is said to lead to around 5% of all cancer cases.

Mr Rae's submission to the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament said assumptions behind offering the vaccination only to girls was based on the theory of "herd immunity", whereby if the condition was eradicated among women it would disappear among males too.

He said this was a flawed and discriminatory policy which "must be addressed as a matter of urgency".

His submission said: "By the very nature of herd immunity, if a person is outwith the herd they will not be protected. This means men who have sex with men are excluded and not protected from human papillomavirus cancers."

He said simply immunising females might have been appropriate in the 1950s, but not today.

The submission added: "We live in an era where there is a highly mobile population. There are mass movements of population around the globe. While Scotland's 'herd' has good levels of vaccination for our females, the same cannot be said for other countries.

"Some countries have a vaccine uptake of far less than the 80% required for even herd immunity. By relying on herd immunity we are leaving males vulnerable to human papillomavirus."

Mr Rae told the committee Australia, where a Glasgow-born scientist had pioneered research in this area, had become the first country to offer the vaccine on a gender-neutral basis and other countries were close to doing this, with pressure in England and Wales to follow suit.

The submission stated: "The precise costs are hard to obtain because commercial confidentiality prohibits pharmaceutical companies from divulging the costs for the vaccine in the UK.

"Figures which we obtained from Norway put the cost per vaccination (three doses) at £45. There are 27,000 12-year-old boys in Scotland so costs for the extension on the programme are around £1,215,000 for the vaccinations and the additional administration costs to implement this."

The committee agreed to continue consideration of the petition and seek the views of the Government, cancer charities, gay rights groups and the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation, which backs current policy.

The link between HPV and throat cancer as a sexually transmitted condition was raised last week when Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas spoke of his own battle with the disease, from which he has recovered.