Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Let’s talk about HPV vaccine and its link to cancer prevention


By Dr Chris Peterson sonchrispeter@gmail.com

A few months ago, I received a referral case of a patient from one of the major hospitals in Mwanza Region.

It was a 50 year old woman, a patient who was initially experiencing prolonged menstrual bleeding but later developed some complications.

She reported feeling pain in her pelvis and during intercourse. She had been advised to take antibiotics when she visited a walk-in clinic near her home.

But the pain didn’t stop. Her situation got even worse. She spotted watery, blood vaginal discharge that was heavy and had a foul odour.

That was before she was referred to our hospital in Dar es Salaam for further check-ups; after the basic care she had received seemed not to solve her problem.

After examining her and taking an HPV DNA test, pap test and biopsy, I finally confirmed that she had abnormal cells in the cervix and the HPV DNA test clearly showed it was caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

And the pain in her pelvis and during intercourse were actually a result of a cancer that had moved to the lower portion of the vagina and internally to the pelvic wall.

To treat her cancer, my patient had to go through 33 daily rounds of radiation and six weeks of chemotherapy and she finally finished after three months and that’s when I got chance to sit down with her and discuss the exact cause of her cancer.

She was surprised when I told her that she would have avoided the cancer if she had a shot of an HPV vaccine at a young age.

According to Centre of Disease Control (CDC), cervical cancer still remains the leading cause of death among women. Here in Tanzania it’s also a major problem.

The main solution, according to stakeholders in the cancer fight and researchers, is vaccination.

If you have sex now, had sex in the past or will have sex in the future, especially if it’s unsafe, there is a likely chance you‘ve had, have or may someday get human papillomavirus (HPV).

It’s a sexually transmitted virus that is linked to several cancers including cancer of the cervix.

However, the good news is that, the next generation and young adults may not face these odds, thanks to HPV vaccine.

So what is HPV vaccine? This is a type of vaccination that helps to prevent infection among people of high risk to get HPV, that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts.

HPV vaccines are recommended for both girls and young women aged 0-26.

To prevent the risks of other types of cancers however, boys are also recommended to get this vaccination since HPV may cause many forms of cancer in both men and women.

I therefore, urge all parents and guardians to have their children vaccinated. A cervical cancer free generation is possible if we invest our efforts in prevention rather than cure.