Australian families rejoice – we have the lowest death rate from cervical cancer of anywhere in the world. This results from frequent pap tests (which detect changes that precede cancer by up to 10 years) and a great public health system that provides treatment for these changes long before they are life-threatening.
Now we have more reason to be thankful – our own researchers have identified what causes cervical cancer (Human Papilloma Viruses or warts viruses), and have amazingly also produced a highly effective vaccination to prevent the infection. Even more positive is that the government has funded a comprehensive vaccination program, which started in 2007 – $400 worth of vaccinations for every boy and girl to prevent these serious and disfiguring illnesses. How good is that!?
The latest data on the HPV vaccination is positive – there has already been a large decrease in the number of young patients with pre-cancerous changes since its introduction. It’s also interesting to read the connection of the warts virus with serious head and neck cancers – up to 80% of these cancers are attributable to HPV – a virus that can be transmitted by kissing, but again, is preventable with vaccination. I’m looking forward to seeing a drop in the number of new diagnoses of this particularly horrible cancer in the future.
There is one catch with the vaccination. Your child has to be protected by vaccination prior to puberty – well prior to any contact with HPV (either by kissing or other interactions). You only have one opportunity to get this right for your child – don’t miss out on it.
If you need to have catch up vaccinations your GP can arrange this (and you can arrange other vaccinations to be done at the GP clinic rather than at school if you prefer).
Oh, and Ian Frazer, he deserves a Nobel Prize. We are fortunate to have him and his team still working at the Translational Research Institute in Brisbane (hopefully he can solve our skin cancer problems next!).
Dr Cath Hester
These articles are not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a qualified health professional or as specific medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from experience and research in the scientific literature. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon a partnership with a qualified health care professional.