Should I take a HPV vaccine?
I get this question a lot both from women and their mothers.
Before we get into answering the question proper, let’s look at some facts:
- Cervical cancer is the 7th most common cancer in Singapore and the 5th most common cancer in the world.
- Cervical cancer is caused by infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Certain strains of HPV, known as ‘high risk types’ are more likely to cause Cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer is frequently asymptomatic until late stages.
- Cervical cancer can be cured if detected early.
- The best way to detect Cervical cancer early is by going for regular PAP smears.
- HPV can be transmitted by both penetrative and non-penetrative sexual contact.
As with any medical decision, it requires a weighing of the pros and cons to make an informed decision.
Sounds like a fairly straightforward decision to me.
The second decision to make is ‘Which Vaccine’?
This is more complex and requires a formal consultation with your doctor.
Questions that I get asked a lot:
But MOH (Ministry of Health) says the vaccine is only for women between the ages of 9 and 26?
My usual response: That is MOH’s policy. The fact is HPV vaccines protect against HPV, regardless of age. In fact, recent studies on both Cervarix and Gardasil indicate that HPV vaccination in women up to 45 years old is still effective in preventing Cervical cancer. The more important thing is to weigh the risk and benefits carefully.
I have already been infected with HPV. Should I still get vaccinated?
My usual response: HPV infections are detected using the Digene DNA HPV test. It can tell if a woman is infected with a high risk HPV strain but is unable to tell the strains apart. It is unlikely that a woman is infected with all the high risk strains at once. It is therefore still good to get vaccinated to protect yourself against the other strains.
My husband and I have no other sexual partners. Do I still need to get vaccinated?
My usual response: There is no need for vaccination if you are in a mutually monogamous relationship. (stressing on the word ‘mutually’ which usually draws a chuckle).
Do I need to undergo a PAP smear and HPV test before having the vaccine?
My usual response: No. The results of these tests will not make a difference to your decision on whether or not to have the vaccine. It is always a good habit to have regular PAP smears anyway.
I always use condoms so I am protected against HPV right?
My usual response: Unfortunately that is not true. It has been shown that condoms do NOT prevent HPV infection. However, condoms do provide some protection against HPV related diseases like Cervical cancer and warts.
So after all of that this is the take home message ‘Go speak to your doctor about getting vaccinated against HPV for yourself and your daughter. It is very likely both of you will benefit from it. Remember to continue getting your regular PAP smears.’
About Dr. Tan
Dr. Tan graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2001. His residency was in the two largest public hospitals in Singapore; Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.