Mohammad Ali Cheaito
Not many people know what cervical cancer is, and unfortunately, many more people do not know what the major cause of this type of cancer is. Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix, which is the lowest region of the uterus connecting it to the vagina. More than 90% of cervical cancers are due to the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV), against which a vaccine was developed.
However, like most obstetric and gynecological issues in our region of the world, this subject is kept low-profile, when in fact talking about it can help save a lot of lives.
Cervical cancer is the fourth-most common cause of cancer and cancer-related-death in women worldwide. In 2012 alone, the incidence of cervical cancer was found in 528,000 cases, with more than 50% mortality rate. It is the second-most common cause of female-specific cancer after breast cancer. While many sweep it under the rug in our region, it remains a serious issue that can ultimately be prevented before it begins.
To this day, there are only three cancer prevention vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Two of them are HPV vaccines, which can prevent up to 90% of the cervical cancers. The third is the Hepatitis B vaccination, which can help prevent liver cancer.
In addition to the vaccination, regular Pap smears; which are screening procedures, are very important. This is especially important knowing that the risk for cervical cancer, though much lower, still persists even after the vaccination.
A study was conducted in Lebanon to determine the rate of HPV vaccination among our population. The study sampled 1,000 Lebanese women aged between 18 and 55. The result came back to show that only five percent of Lebanese women have had the vaccine. This number is especially alarming when compared to the HPV vaccination rate in the US at the time, which was around 25 percent. The numbers for the Pap smears were more satisfactory showing that 64 percent go for regular smear tests.
A more recent study published in 2015 assessed the behavioral perceptions of HPV vaccination among female students in Lebanon. The results showed that among the 215 responders, 36.5% never heard of the vaccine before and only 16.5% were already HPV vaccinated.
The two available vaccines are called Gardasil and Cervarix, which cover some of the high-risk strains of HPV (i.e. the strains that can cause to cervical cancer). Recommendations are to give all kids (boys and girls) who are 11 or 12 years old a three-dose series. Young women can get HPV vaccine before the age of 26, and young men can get vaccinated before the age of 21.
Recommendations are also available for specific cases. It is worth noting that both vaccines are very safe and don’t cause any adverse effects that are not usually caused by other vaccines.
According to The Daily Star, Glaxosmithkline, one of the two main vaccine manufacturers and producers of the Cervarix vaccine, has decreased the global prices to better correspond with local wages due to pressure from medical institutions and charities. Accordingly, the price was cut down by more than 40% in Lebanon with hopes of an increase in the rate of vaccination.
Lebanon is a conservative community and the issue of sexually transmitted diseases is still widely considered a taboo, but it’s time to shed light on such an important topic to help save lives, especially when a sexually transmitted virus can lead to a cancer that can be easily prevented by a simple vaccine. Get the vaccine and educate those around you so that we can beat cervical cancer together.