Thanks to the B.C. government, female students at Langara College now have a free line of defence against a virus that causes cervical cancer.
Langara College health services will be providing the vaccination Cervarix to women born between 1991 and 1993 for free (while supplies last). This vaccine protects against two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers, according to Immunize BC.
“We are saving lives and it will prevent women from becoming ill,” said Susan Kensett, a community health nurse at Langara health services.
This is part of the federal government’s nationwide vaccination program. In 2007, $300 million was set aside for a vaccination program to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.
A deadly common infection
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. In fact, three out of four sexually active people will become infected with HPV. It can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, which means you don’t need to have sexual intercourse to contract it. Most people will not show signs or symptoms so it is easy to unknowingly become infected and pass along the virus.
Two specific strains of HPV cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers in women, and two other strains cause 90 per cent of genital warts in women and men.
The government takes initiative to prevent cervical cancer
In 2006, Health Canada approved an HPV vaccination called Gardasil, which protects against the strains that cause warts and cervical cancer. This vaccination is approved in Canada for females between the ages of nine and 46 years, as well as males between the ages of 9 and 26 years.
The vaccine, given in a series of three injections costing around $500 in total, has been provided for free to grade 6 girls in B.C. since 2008.
In March of this year, a new campaign was launched to vaccinate women born between 1991 and 1993. B.C. Health officials said that offering a vaccine called Cervarix to this age group is cost effective and will prevent cervical cancer.
Cervarix protects against the two types of HPV that cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers. It costs around $300 for the three shots given.
Vaccines are not enough on their own
“The vaccine is effective pre-contact with HPV. Once in contact with HPV, the vaccine is not as effective,” said Kensett.
Despite the success and accessibility of these vaccines, Pap smears have always been the best defence against cervical cancer.
“Women still need regular Pap screenings because the HPV vaccination doesn’t protect against every cancer,” said Kensett.
Some staggering statistics
The World Health Organization warns that cervical cancer kills about 250,000 women worldwide every year. In B.C. alone, 150 women will get cervical cancer every year.
These statistics may seem alarming but since the introduction of the Pap test, a screening test used to detect precancerous and cancerous cells, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped by half, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Reported by Tanya Hill