The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has announced a challenge to Canadians to become the first country in the world to eradicate cervical cancer. And the first step to achieving this is to get the next generation vaccinated against HPV. HPV is the virus responsible for genital warts, cervical, anal and penile cancers, and cancer of the throat (known as oropharyngeal cancer).
In 2017, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador joined Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, the Yukon and Prince Edward Island in offering the vaccine for both boys and girls. It’s not a mandatory vaccine, but it’s super important for not only preventing cervical cancer but other cancers too.
Oropharyngeal cancer, for one, is on the rise, especially in men. It’s estimated that, by 2020, HPV will cause more oropharyngeal cancers than cervical cancers. The Canadian Cancer society estimates that 380 women died from cervical cancer in Canada last year. And a recent study from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto found that vaccinating boys at age 12 could save between $8 million and $28 million in treatment costs for oropharyngeal cancer alone over their lifetime.
The HPV vaccine has been proven safe, and with the millions of doses that have already been given worldwide, there have been no serious complications. “Anytime there is an adverse reaction reported that someone believes is from the HPV vaccine, we investigate it,” says Shalina Desai, a medical epidemiologist for Public Health Ontario and a practicing paediatrician. “The overwhelming evidence is that the vaccine is safe.”
Even though the initial push around the HPV vaccine was focused on preventing cervical cancer by administering the vaccine before kids start engaging in sexual activity, some critics argued that giving it to girls as young as nine sexualized them unnecessarily. By giving it to both girls and boys, the message is that it’s a routine health procedure for everyone.