UAE: Why boys must take vaccines to prevent cervical cancer

Girls should take the vaccine between the ages of 9 and 12, when it is the most effective

by

Ashwani Kumar

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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Published: Fri 19 Jan 2024, 8:19 AM

Last updated: Sun 21 Jan 2024, 4:30 PM

Vaccinating girls and boys will help prevent cervical cancer, a leading medical expert said while marking the Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the World Health Organisation, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally, with 604,000 new cases reported in 2020. Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) — a sexually transmitted infection. Most people will get HPV at some point in their lives but do not realise it because their bodies fight the infection. However, if an individual’s body doesn’t fight the infection, it can cause the cells of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus or womb, which opens into the vagina) to change to cancerous cells.

Dr Stephanie Ricci, staff physician, gynaecology oncology, Oncology Institute, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, noted that having multiple strains of the HPV virus puts an individual at risk for cervical cancer.

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“This includes having anything that suppresses your immune system, for example taking immunosuppressants for an organ transplant or a disease. Conditions such as obesity and diabetes, which we know compromise the immune system, or high levels of stress, anything that affects our immune system, can negatively impact our ability to fight the HPV virus,” Dr Stephanie told Khaleej Times in an interview.

“Once the virus gets into normal cervical cells, it can transform them into precancerous and cancerous cells. So, once our immune system is compromised, we cannot fight off the virus, which makes us susceptible to cervical cancer.”

Dr Stephanie underlined that the HPV vaccine covers nine of the highest-risk strains of the HPV.

“HPV 16 and HPV 18 account for approximately 70 per cent of cervical cancers. The vaccine is incredibly effective in preventing cervical cancer in countries with a national vaccination programme. These programmes have eradicated cervical cancer, and they vaccinate both boys and girls between nine and 12,” Dr Stephanie said and pointed out that girls must take the vaccine between nine and 12 years of age when it has the most significant efficacy, but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the vaccine in women up to the age of 45.

Why should boys be vaccinated?

Dr Stephanie highlighted that boys should also be vaccinated to eradicate genital warts as males transmit HPV to women sexually.

“Vaccinating girls alone is only taking care of half the problem because men are also carriers of HPV and transmit it to women.”

Dr Stephanie said that genital wart is another condition caused by the HPV virus.

“While genital warts are not cancerous, some people are embarrassed and ashamed of them, and they can affect both men and women. The vaccine also protects against two types of HPV viruses, which cause genital warts. Therefore, while it is more for protecting women from cervical cancer when boys are vaccinated, they are also protected from getting genital warts.”

Pap smear, HPV tests, regular screenings

Dr Stephanie underlined that a pap smear with HPV testing has been a proven method of cervical cancer screening and the best way to prevent it.

“Once we find cervical dysplasia or pre-cancer cells, we can treat them before they become cancerous,” Dr Stephanie added.

Abu Dhabi Public Health Center recommends that all women aged 25 to 29 have a pap smear every three years, and women aged 30 to 65 have a pap smear every five years, as well as an HPV test.

Managing lifestyle risk factors, such as leading a healthy lifestyle and not smoking, can also reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

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