“The first step in Cervical Cancer Prevention”:
The introduction of the Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine
Within the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour, the Collective Prevention Services’ section Youth Health Care is responsible for the National Vaccination Program. The National Vaccination Program is designed to prevent our children and population from vaccine preventable diseases. The St. Maarten National Vaccination program will introduce the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine for 9 and 10 year old girls in September 2013.
What is cervical cancer?
- Cervical cancer is cancer from the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow portion of the uterus (womb) where it joins with the top end of the vagina (see illustration).
- Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women.
- In almost all cases cervical cancer does not give any symptoms until it is quite advanced and cannot be treated anymore.
Who can get cervical cancer?
- All women can get cervical cancer
- It occurs most often in women over age 30, but can also affect younger women.
What causes cervical cancer?
- 99% of all cervical cancers are caused by an infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Women who smoke have a higher risk of cervical cancer
How can you prevent cervical cancer?
- Step 1: Vaccination against HPV
- Step 2: Regular PAP-smears
- Step 3: HPV-DNA testing
Who can get the HPV vaccine?
- Within the national vaccination schedule the target group for the HPV vaccine are the girls aged 9 and 10.
How and when is the vaccine given?
- The vaccine is given in the upper arm via an injection.
- The vaccine is given at the schools by the nursing/ medical staff of YHC.
- Three doses of the HPV vaccine will be given within a six months period.
What happens after the vaccine has been given?
- After vaccination the body will make anti-bodies against the HPV which will help protect females against an HPV infection that can cause cervical cancer.
- The vaccinations will be recorded in the child’s vaccination record (card/book) and in the Youth Health Care files.
What are the most common side effects of the HPV vaccine?
- Pain, swelling, itching, bruising and redness at the injection site.
- Headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, fainting.
Is the vaccine safe?
- Yes, the vaccine has been tested thoroughly before approval and introduction.
- All vaccinations are monitored for side effects.
- More than 40 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given worldwide.
Why does the section Youth Health Care target 9 and 10 year old girls?
- It has been scientifically proven that the best protection is reached when a girl (female) has not been in contact with the virus yet.
- Younger girls build up better immunity after vaccination.
Should all girls get the HPV vaccine?
- The St. Maarten National Vaccination program will start with the 9 and 10 year old girls. However older girls can also get this vaccine, but the parents/guardians will have to take care of it themselves via their health care provider.
Is a PAP smear still necessary after HPV vaccination?
- Yes, vaccination is the first step in Cervical Cancer Prevention. Regular PAP smears remain important in the prevention and early detection of Cervical Cancer.
- The HPV vaccine will prevent up to 70% of all cervical cancers.
- PAP-smears detect pre-cancerous lesions that can still be treated if detected on time.
Where can I get more information about Cervical cancer and HPV?
- The department Collective Prevention Services can provide you with more information.
- You can consult your family physician, pediatrician or gynaecologist.
- Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a very informative website http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Sheet about HPV infections
What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
- HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. The human papilloma viruses are a group of more than 150 related viruses.
- Around 40 HPV types can infect the genitals and oropharynx (mouth and throat).
- Some HPV types are high risk, which means they can cause cancer of the cervix and also of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina and oropharynx .
- Others are low risk types which causes genital warts.
- 99% of cervical cancers are caused by an HPV infection
- Type 16 and 18 cause 70% of all cervical cancers
- Type 6 and 11 cause 90% of all genital warts
How is HPV transmitted?
- HPV is a highly infectious virus transmitted through genital (private parts) contact (vaginal, anal, oral sex or contact with the fingers) during sexual activity.
- 80% of all persons will get an HPV infection at least once in their lives.
Do all people who get an HPV infection also get cancer?
- No, most people with an HPV infection do not get cancer, nor develop symptoms or health problems. In 90% of the cases, the body’s immune system clears the HPV naturally within two years.
- If the HPV infection is not cleared, it can cause the normal cells to turn abnormal and develop in to genital warts, cervical cancer and/or other cancers.
- Warts can appear within weeks or months after getting an HPV infection.
- Cancer often takes years to develop after getting HPV. Normal cells turn in to pre-cancerous lesions and these lesions turn in to cancer (see illustration how an HPV infection becomes cancer).
How can people prevent an HPV infection?
- Vaccination can protect females and also males against some of the most common types of HPV. For the best protection it is important to get all three doses according to schedule.
- Postpone the age of becoming sexually active.
- For those who choose to become sexually active, condoms may lower the risk of HPV. They should be used with every sexual act, from start to finish.
- Being in a faithful relationship with one partner, limiting their number of sex partners, choosing a partner who has had few or no other sex partners.
- Always practice safe sex.
Against which types of HPV will the vaccine protect?
- The HPV vaccine used in the National Vaccination Program protects against types 6, 11, 16 and 18. Type 6 and 11 are responsible for 90% of all genital warts, type 16 and 18 are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers
- This vaccine can be given to boys and girls.
- Vaccines only prevent infections, they are not a treatment for an HPV infection.