Health

FAQ about HPV — Part 3

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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For the month of October, Your Health Your Wealth , in partnership with the Ministry of Health, will be discussing the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against cancers including cervical cancer.

Q: Is HPV infection dangerous?

A: Yes, the virus can be dangerous. There are 12 types of the HPV virus that are known to cause cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva, vagina, penis, or throat. Each of these HPV types is easy to contract and pass on to others. In most cases, infection with these types does not cause any symptoms that people will notice.

The infection usually lasts one to two years and will go away on its own. However, at least one out of 10 people can have longer-lasting infections which can develop into precancerous growths. If these growths are not detected through a Pap smear and removed in a timely manner, they progress to cancer.

Q: What causes cervical cancer?

A: Virtually all cervical cancer cases start with a sexually transmitted HPV infection. HPV is a very common virus that can infect skin and mucosal tissues, including the lining of the cervix in women. Many cervical infections clear up without treatment, but infections that persist over many years can change the normal cervical cells into clusters of abnormal cervical cells — called precancerous growths or lesions — that develop into cancer if undetected with screening and not treated.

Q: Is it possible to get tested for HPV and cervical cancer?

A: Yes, regular testing is possible and very important. There are three different methods of screening for HPV and cervical cancer:

• The HPV test (seen in cells from the cervix) is used to detect types of HPV that may cause cancer.

• The widely used Pap test is used to detect abnormal cell growth (precancerous or cancerous lesions).

• Visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid may also be used to detect visible lesions.

Q: Why get vaccinated if the vaccine only covers some of the circulating HPV types?

A: The vaccine protects against infections with HPV types 16 and 18, which cause at least 70 per cent of all cases of cervical cancer. Women who have received the vaccine are therefore much less likely to develop cervical cancer.

Q: Is the vaccine effective for someone who is already sexually active?

A: Yes, but the vaccine is most effective in individuals who have not been exposed to HPV. In addition, the vaccine still offers some protection against HPV-related infections in sexually active people.

Q: Is vaccination the only way to prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer?

A: While vaccination is an effective method of preventing HPV infections, which cause cancer, women are still required to do regular cervical screening tests to detect precancerous lesions, even if they had received the vaccine. When done together, vaccination and cervical cancer screening provide excellent protection against cervical cancer.

Q: Who should get the HPV vaccine?

A: The vaccine is best given to girls ages nine to 14 years before they are infected with HPV. Two doses of the vaccine must be given for full protection against HPV types 16 and 18. Girls and women ages 15 to 26 years can also receive the vaccine and must be receive three doses for full protection. Persons who have weakened immune systems are more likely to develop cancer if they are infected with the HPV virus, and these persons should receive three doses of vaccine.

Q: Would it be better to wait until my daughter is older?

A: No, your daughter should get the vaccine while she is young because:

• the vaccine works best in a young person before exposure to the virus; and

• her immune response to the vaccine will be better now than if she receives the vaccine later.

If your daughter receives the two doses of the vaccine now she will be protected from cervical cancers caused by HPV types 16 and 18 for the rest of her life.

Q: Is a health check needed before getting the vaccine?

A: Yes, at the vaccination session the health care provider will ask a few questions mainly to determine if your child has any medical conditions that can delay or hinder her from receiving the vaccine. Girls must also bring their immunisation cards to the vaccination session.

Answers compiled by Dr Melody Ennis of the Ministry of Health.

What are your concerns, what are you not sure about? We would love to hear from you. Submit your questions to healthandwealth@jamaicaobserver.com. You can also contact the Ministry of Health at 1-888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683) or hpvinfo@moh.gov.jm


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