Published: 12/23/2015 - Updated: 08/29/2018
Author: MSc. Miriam Reyes
Currently, cervical cancer is the global number one cause of death for women, and generally this cancer occurs as a consequence of those who had previously been infected by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The concern is that this virus is not a singular virus – there are around 150 types which the vaccines must fight.
What are HPVs?
We have already mentioned that there are around 150 types of HPV – those which can cause infections with warts or cancerous and non-cancerous tumors. In the USA alone, they have detected that between 6 and 7 million cases of infection occur each year. Many of them can appear and disappear during intervals of time without medication, but others, however, may be more prolonged and cause cell abnormalities which can mutate into cancerous cells causing illnesses such as cervical cancer, which affects women.
How does Cervical Cancer spread?
Sexually transmitted HPVs are the most commonly occuring in the world population. There are 40 types which can be spread through sexual contact, infecting anal, genital and oral areas.
Existing Vaccines for Cervical Cancer
The good news is, to prevent the virus from spreading and thus developing into cervical cancer, there are two vaccines in existence called Gardasil and Cervarix, which have been included in the system of free vaccines in various countries of the world. After many years of study and experimentation, they were finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States, categorised as “highly effective”. That is why it is emphasised that the application of these vaccines could notably reduce deaths from cervical cancer, anal cancer and even penile cancer which affects men.
We cannot deny that, in several sectors of society, there is distrust of these vaccines, and many of the criticisms come from political sectors, religious groups, etc. However, it must be clarified that after the investigations and applied testing on hundreds of people, there have been no reported serious side-effects. Some side-effects reported include nausea, headaches, diziness or some skin reactions on the site of the injection.
How many HPVs do the vaccines protect against?
As we have referred to above, speaking of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) refers to around 50 types or more, but the vaccines which are used today only protect from 4 types – the ones who have the highest rate of occurrence. Gardasil protects against types 6, 11, 16 and 18 of HPV, while the Cervarix vaccine prevents types 16 and 18 HPV. Both are applicable to men and women. Despite the fact that it has not been absolutely proven to provide protection from other types of HPV, according to the scientists who created them, some initial data has shown that both vaccines could partially protect, to some extent, from other types of the Human Papillomavirus; above all those which cause cervical cancer.
At what age should someone be vaccinated?
The vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix should be applied to men and women between the ages of 9 and 26 years, who have not contracted HPV. This should be reflected on, because it is clear that it is school-age adolescents who they should be vaccinating to prevent a future where they could get HPV, and it is the parents who must give their approval. Unfortunately many of them are reluctant to accept the vaccine on the grounds that they would be indirectly approving sexual liberties for their children.
It is thought that with these vaccines, we would be greatly reducing the cause of death for many women and that in a long-term projection it is viewed to possibly reduce the need for biopsies and other invasive procedures that must be performed to rule out the disease.
Educating ourselves and Prevention
As the vaccines we mention do not protect against all types of HPV, it is necessary to turn to other medical evaluations or examinations to prevent them: We are talking about the pap smear test, which remains to be an effective and traditional option.
We also have to be aware that the HPV is spread through sexual contact, and so while we practice more careful and reserved sexual conduct, we will avoid being contaminated. Therefore it is advisable, like other sexually transmitted diseases, to maintain only one sexual partner and use condoms.
It should be highlighted that the intention of this article is not to alarm, but to educate and prevent, although more during the dates where the initiation of vaccines in schools has begun in many countries, coincidentally at the start of the school year.
Not only does it remain for us to reflect on the parents to receive guidance and approve the application of vaccines on our children, but also on the women and men who are those who can carry the virus and transmit it to their partners, which can later lead to cancer. They may also develop penile and anal cancer.
Revised by: Dra. Loredana Lunadei on 08/29/2018
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