HPV Vaccine can eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue

HPV Prevention Protect your children, yourself & your partner

October 1-7, 2018 marked the second annual HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) Prevention Week in Canada. As Chair of this educational week, initiated by the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, we focused on the need for both education and awareness of this common virus and how we can prevent the cancers associated with persistence. What does that mean practically? Well, 75-80% of adults in North America will be exposed to HPV at some point in their life. Most of us clear the virus, the way we clear a common cold. But persistence of the virus has now been linked to 6 different cancers in men and women. The most common one is cervical cancer where HPV now accounts for more than 99% of cancers. And oral cancers (think of the Michael Douglas story) are rapidly increasing in men.

The good news?

We have a fabulous vaccine, now offered to all boys and girls in the school system throughout Canada, in every province and territory. However, we do not have 100% uptake of the vaccine. Some of our young people may not be protected.

And what about older men and women? Our national guideline says there is no upper age limit for use of the vaccine. If you are likely going to be exposed, a new partner for example, you should talk to your doctor about immunization.

How do we know vaccination is really worth it? Australia is the leading country in the world with respect to this vaccine. When they announced vaccination in the school system more than 10 years ago, their uptake was very high. And they started immunizing boys as well in their school system soon after girls. The result: they just announced that by 2028, they will be the first country in the world to have eliminated cervical cancer as a public health issue, with less than 4 cases per 100,000. And by 2066, they project less than 1 case per 100,000.

Eliminating cancer by vaccination against the virus responsible.
That is what this is all about. That is why we held a week of education. That is why we want to be the second country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer. That is why you should protect your kids, protect yourself, protect your partner. That is why you should talk to your doctor!


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Life-saving vaccine school program gets boost from Toronto Board of Health.

shutterstock_526821535.jpgEach year the diagnosis and treatment of HPV-related infections (Human Papillomaviruses (HPV)) cost the Canadian health care system more than $300 million.  HPV are the cause of almost all cervical cancers, are a leading cause of other genital cancers, anal cancers, and warts, and contribute to cancers of the head and neck.  Three out of every four Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. Not every infection leads to cancer, but medicine still is unclear as to why some people clear this virus, while others have persistent virus that then does become more aggressive.

In 2007, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended the use of the HPV vaccine for females between nine and 26 years of age to prevent cervical cancer, as well as other infections such as genital warts.  That year, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) made the HPV vaccine publicly available, free of charge, to all grade 8 girls (13-14 years of age).  In September 2012 the MOHLTC also funded a “catch-up” program to vaccinate females born between 1993 and 1998 that had not received all three HPV shots while in grade 8.

In January 2012, NACI added a recommendation for all males aged nine to 26 to receive HPV vaccine to prevent anal and genital cancers and genital warts.  It also recommended HPV vaccine for all males who have sex with males since they have a disproportionately higher burden of HPV infections.  Vaccinating males with HPV vaccine will also reduce the spread of HPV infection to females.  

To date, the Ontario’s MOHLTC has not acted on this recommendation, and the HPV publicly funded vaccination program remains available only to females in grades 8-12.  In other provinces, PEI and Alberta, the program is being funded for boys as well.  Ontario needs to step up to the plate.

As a family physician and member of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to expand this program to include boys!!!   This is a contagious infection that has serious potential to spread and we have the tools to stop it!  This is what we mean by primary prevention, stopping infection and disease, before it starts.

Currently, I am meeting with all 3 parties at Queen’s Park to discuss these issues and to encourage equitable access for all young Ontarians.  It is only fair.