Nikola, 14 years old
- I have been vaccinated against HPV
- Vaccination has up to 90% long-term efficacy
- I am in school and I do sports without any limitations
- I live a full life
- It is highly unlikely that cervical cancer will be the cause of my death
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that attack human skin and mucosal cells and cause serious cancer in both women and men. Although it is possible to effectively prevent this cancer by vaccination paid by health insurance companies, the vaccination coverage rate in the Czech Republic is declining.
Cervical cancer is a very serious disease. In addition to malignant breast, colon, lung and uterus tumors, it is one of the most common tumors in Czech women. While certain low-risk HPV types (6 and 11) cause warts (condyloma) mainly on the genitals after about 4 months, high-risk HPV types (16, 18, 31, 33 and 51) cause abnormal, pre-cancerous lesions (changes) from which cancer may develop. In women, it is usually cervical, vaginal or vulvar cancer, in men it is penile cancer. Both women and men may develop rectal carcinoma or oropharyngeal carcinoma (in the oral cavity and pharynx).
More than 80% of the sexually active population will get HPV. It is usually transmitted through sexual contact, direct contact in close contact or contact with mucous membranes. It can also be transmitted from mother to child during childbirth. A healthy immune system can usually fight off this infection. The actual HPV infection has so far been untreatable.
There is a cervical screening program for women in the Czech Republic, which offers a free smear test as part of a preventive gynecological checkup. There is no blanket screening for men, but a dermatologist or urologist may perform urethral or penile swabs upon request.
The vaccination coverage against papillomavirus is declining in spite of the fact that vaccination is very effective. A total of 75.7% of the Czech population were vaccinated in 2012, while five years later only 63.7% were vaccinated. Only 29.7% of 13-year-old boys were vaccinated. This is a major problem. Malta shows the highest vaccination coverage rate in the given year (88%). Other countries with a high vaccination coverage rate include Belgium (83%), Sweden (82%) and Portugal (81%).
Yet, vaccination for women has been paid for by health insurance companies since 2006 and for men since 2016, from the age of 13 to the age of 14. Older people can also be vaccinated, but it is better to complete the vaccination before they become sexually active.
Prevention, together with vaccination, helps to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer. Vaccination could potentially lead to the elimination of cervical cancer if used more effectively across the board.