World HPV Day: Vaccinating girls and boys could eradicate cervical cancer

World HPV Day
Vaccination of girls and boys could eradicate cervical cancer

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Cervical cancer remains the third leading cause of cancer-related death in women worldwide. Triggers are human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccination for girls and boys is supposed to protect, but vaccination rates are stagnating. On March 4th the HPV Awareness Day takes place, which should not only draw attention to the pathogen, but also to the vaccination.

Around 80% of all women and men worldwide become infected with genital human papilloma viruses (HPV) in the course of their lives. These are microscopic particles that can infect humans. More than 200 different HPV types are now known. Most people go through an infection without noticing it, some types of virus lead to harmless warts, while others lead to tissue changes in the cervix, labia and vulva, vagina, penis, anus or mouth and throat area.

Around 7,850 women and men in Germany contract HPV-related tumors every year

Cervical cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in women worldwide. In Europe, 33,500 new cases are registered every year, and around 15,000 women die from it. Based on data from the Center for Cancer Registry Data of the RKI, around 6,250 women and around 1,600 men in Germany develop carcinomas caused by HPV infections every year. Cervical carcinoma is the most common. About 4,600 women fall ill with it every year. About a third of those affected die.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide

Unlike many other diseases that are transmitted through bodily fluids, HPV infection occurs through skin and mucosal contact, i.e. direct contact with infected areas of skin and mucous membranes. This usually happens through intimate physical contact such as kissing, petting or having sex. A tiny, often not even visible injury to the skin or mucous membrane is enough for the virus to enter the body.

In most cases, the infection clears up within a year or two without any health problems. However, if it persists for a longer period of time, certain precancerous lesions or types of cancer can develop. Around half of all infectious cancers in developed countries are related to HPV. Around four women worldwide die from cervical cancer every day.

Vaccination to stop cervical cancer

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer could be eliminated if 90 percent of girls by the age of 15 were fully vaccinated against HPV by 2030. However, the vaccination rate is currently not high enough, even if the HPV vaccination is now part of the standard report for young girls and boys in Germany and is covered by health insurance companies.

According to the German Cancer Research Center, just over half of all 15-year-old girls were fully vaccinated in 2020, while the rate for boys was just 17 percent. In order to increase the rate, offering vaccinations in schools could be an effective strategy. A current survey of 1,013 people aged 14 and over commissioned by the Cancer Information Service of the DKFZ and the National Cancer Prevention Center now shows: More than two thirds are in favor of a voluntary HPV vaccination program in schools. Among 14 to 17-year-olds, 96 percent approved of a voluntary vaccination offer in schools.

HPV vaccination also for boys

Due to a lack of education, vaccination is still often perceived in public as a pure “prevention for girls”. However, vaccinating boys is just as important. Because the vaccination not only protects boys themselves from tumor diseases, but also their sexual partners. “Vaccinated boys are not virus carriers, they cannot infect other people,” says Nobila Ouédraogo, an expert in vaccination prevention at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ).

The two necessary vaccinations should be done before the first sexual contact and is recommended for girls and boys aged 9 to 14 years.



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