Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Malaysia and, more worryingly, it is a leading cause of death among women all around the world.
Most of the cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is very common and has been found to infect 1 out of every 2 sexually-active women and men. There are about 40 different types of human papillomavirus that affect the genital areas.
However, with the human papillomavirus vaccine available, cases of cervical cancer caused by human papillomavirus can now be prevented. Additionally, the human papillomavirus vaccine offers protection to several other forms of cancers (such as anal, vulvar and vaginal cancers) as well as genital warts.
This article will show you why it is always a good idea to immunise your children (both boys and girls) against human papillomavirus.
Facts About Cervical Cancer
In 2010, World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report showing that the threat of cervical cancer is closer to home than many of us may think:
- It is the third most common cancer in Malaysia.
- 7 million women over the age of 15 in Malaysia are at risk.
- About 6 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day.
- 631 of these women will die of cervical cancer
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus.
Learn More About HPV
There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus, and about 40 affect the genital areas of both males and females. Infection can easily spread from person to person, through sexual contact, because most infected people do not know that they have human papillomavirus. This is because the infected person often does now show any symptoms or health problems. There are currently no methods of detection for men. For women, however, regular Pap smear tests could help detect a human papillomavirus infection.
In some people, the immune system can clear the infection naturally within 2 years. This does not always happen to every infected person – if left untreated, human papillomavirus infection can cause potentially life-threatening complications.
Human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 cause 70-80% of all cervical cancer cases. Human papillomavirus types 6 and 11 can cause genital warts. They can also cause cancer of the vagina, vulva and anus.
Protection From HPV
Vaccines to protect both men and women from human papillomavirus infection are available.
- One protects from the types of human papillomavirus that cause most cervical cancers. Additionally, it protects from the types of human papillomavirus that cause most genital warts in addition to reducing the risk of anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Because of the added protection offered by this vaccine, it is recommended for boys as well as girls.
- The other protects from the types of human papillomavirus that cause most cervical cancers. It is recommended for girls.
Both vaccines are administered in 3 doses over a period of 6 months.
How Do Vaccines Work?
Human papillomavirus vaccines protect the body from human papillomavirus infections by simulating an immune response similar to an actual human papillomavirus infection. This causes the body to produce antibodies that can, in the future, prevent human papillomavirus viruses from infecting cells.
Who Should Get Immunised
Both boys and girls should receive immunisation against human papillomavirus as early as possible.
For girls, immunisation against human papillomavirus protects them from human papillomavirus viruses responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer cases. Coupled to regular Pap smear examination, immunisation against human papillomavirus allows a woman to greatly reduce her risk of cervical cancer.
Boys need protection against human papillomavirus too. The human papillomavirus vaccine protects from the types of human papillomavirus that can cause anal cancer and genital warts as well. Also, because human papillomavirus infection and genital warts often go undetected, sexually active males can easily pass human papillomavirus to another person. Immunising boys against human papillomavirus will help reduce the rate of transmission of human papillomavirus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that boys and girls should receive the vaccination from 11 to 13 years old. This is because studies had shown that the vaccine becomes less effective once the person has been exposed to human papillomavirus. It has also been shown that the immune response is better if the human papillomavirus vaccine is administered at a younger age.
Since 2010, the Ministry of Health has been offering the human papillomavirus vaccination free to 13-year old girls in the country, provided that the parents offer their consent for their daughters to be vaccinated.
human papillomavirus vaccines are safe
The human papillomavirus vaccines have been tested and studied all over the world. It is also widely used in many countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and USA. Locally, our Ministry of Health has approved the use of the vaccine.
Potential Side Effects
Your child may experience some side effects, which include pain at the site of injection, fever, nausea, and dizziness. It is also possible that the person may faint after receiving the vaccination. To avoid this, it’s advisable to sit or lie down for about 15 minutes after receiving the vaccination.
While very rare, more severe side effects can include blood clots, seizures, strokes, appendicitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
HPV Vaccinations Do Not Promote Promiscuity
There have been many studies done on this matter, and none of them found any evidence that the human papillomavirus vaccines encourage young people to become sexually active at a young age. In fact, a study published in 2012 showed that American girls 12-13 years old, who were given the human papillomavirus vaccination between 2006 and 2007, did not show any increased risk of pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections or other outcomes related to sexual activity.