Yes, you read that well. Some vaccines have been found to reduce the incidence of certain cancers, and I’ll share them. I asked a question on Twitter and Instagram. What disease (s) do you hope, have a vaccine soon. The answers were numerous, but closely related. Some of the leading answers were: HIV, Malaria, Sickle cell disease, Diabetes, Kidney disease, Herpes, Epilepsy. Some persons were generous enough to add; Corruption, Insecurity, and honestly, with the current state of affairs in Nigeria, as at the time of this post, I quite share their sentiments. However, in the over 300 replies I got, 90% of people seemed to agree on one disease… CANCER. Cancer, a diagnosis no one ever wants to hear. Cancer, a disease that has tragically ended the lives of promising Nigerians, Africans, humans globally. Statistically, the prognosis is usually worse in Africa and Nigeria, especially because of our weak health systems and poor health seeking behavior.
Vaccines and Cancer.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that vaccines only protect us by preventing the disease. They are not used as treatment, because they have no curative power. Vaccines prevent many diseases. Some vaccines are taken in childhood, others are taken at various other ages, including in adulthood. Here’s a comprehensive and updated list of vaccine preventable diseases.
Now these vaccines I will share below, work in preventing cancers, by preventing the viruses that are implicated in many cases of these cancers. These viruses in these cases happen to be Sexually transmitted Infections (STIs). This equally means that in addition to vaccination, safe sexual practices are also protective, and can reduce the risk of STI transmission, and potential cancer (s).
Secondly, not STIs cause cancers and not all cases of the cancers listed below, are caused by STIs. Some cancers run in families (genetic) but can be prevted by making healthy lifestyle and dietary choices.
Now some STIs which are major culprits of cancers, are vaccine preventable. These vaccines include;
1. Hepatitis B Virus Vaccine
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease. Just like HIV, it is transmitted through contact with blood and body fluids. It can be transmitted via contaminated sharps and body fluids. It is equally sexually transmitted. Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccines that are safe, available and effective.
Hepatitis B has been found to be implicated in some cases of Liver cancer. Note that, Hepatitis B isn’t the only strain of the Hepatitis virus. There are 5 strains: A-E, with varying severities and complications. However, Hepatitis B is the deadliest! Infact, because of ignorance about this disease, many people present late, and lose their lives to it. It has no cure, but it is treatable. Hepatitis B kills faster than HIV (Which has more awareness, more accessible treatments, and is getting closer to a cure).
So, one way of preventing hepatitis-related Liver cancer disease… is by getting vaccinated. In addition to adopting healthy lifestyles which are liver friendly, like cutting down on alcohol intake. Find some liver cancer prevention health tips here.
Vaccination Schedule for Hepatitis B
According to the WHO, 3 doses offers lifetime immunity.
Child Immunization: WHO recommends that all infants receive the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours – followed by two or three doses of hepatitis B vaccine at least four weeks apart to complete the series.
Adolescent or Adult vaccination: It is recommended that adolescents and adults who missed out on this vaccination, or are unsure about taking it as children, should equally get vaccinated.
3 vaccine shots, each, one month apart. This means One shot is taken every 4 weeks, for 3 diseases
Where can I get vaccinated?
Hepatitis B vaccines are available nationwide in any primary health care Centre or general hospital near you. Another alternative would be to enquire from your healthcare provider ( hospital or HMO), they usually have partnerships with vaccine centres. This vaccination can be provided in these centres on designated days agreed by the hospital. Otherwise, you can be referred to verified vaccination centres.
How much is it?
These vaccines are usually free or subsidized in general hospitals. Private hospitals have a price autonomy, but it’s usually with the range of 2000-4000 per shot.
2. Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine.
This vaccine has been around for the longest time and is protective against one of the commonest STIs known to man- HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). The virus is so popular that statistics say that 80% of sexually active people have had it at some point in their lives, without knowing. It is quite unpopular in Nigeria, because it wasn’t included in our National Programme for Immunization. And even now that it has been included, the federal Government is yet to kick off implementation, with regards to rolling out these vaccines for young boys and girls within the immunization age.
HPV is transmitted via sexual intercourse, and (wait for it), sexual outercourse. Yes. HPV has also been found to be transmitted during sexual contact, like oral sex and Genital play, with or without penetration. This means, while condoms are protective, they are not absolute in the prevention of HPV transmission. Now, this doesn’t mean you should use a condom. You have no way of knowing how it may be transmitted in your case (of it happens). Also, condoms protect against various other STIs, and also against unplanned pregnancy. So, total abstinence or safe sexual practices are the way to go.
HPV has High risk and Low risk types.
The high risk types cause Cancers: These strains include: 16, 18, 31, 33, 34, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 66, 68, and 70.
The Low risk types (6 & 11) are responsible for GENITAL WARTS.
Associated cancers include:
- Oropharyngeal Cancer: Cancer of the mouth and pharynx.
- Cervical Cancer- Cancer of the Cervix (The neck of the womb). In individuals with a uterus. According to the WHO about 99% of all cervical cancers have been closely linked to HPV infection. Other causes are genetic or lifestyle related, not as common as HPV/related Cervical cancer.
- Vulva Cancer: Cancer of the Vulva. The outer female genital area
- Vaginal cancer- Cancer affecting the vagina, which leads up to the Cervix
- Penile Cancer- Cancer of the Penis.
- Anal Cancer- Cancer of the Anus
Note that of all these cancers, Cervical cancer is the most vaccine preventable (Because about 99% of cases are associated with the HPV). Other cancers here, though also caused by different strains of HPV, have other equally high risk factors. Its safe to say that, the vaccine has been found to offer some form of protection in cases where HPV is implicated. You can read up more on these cancers and their prevention.
The most effective age for HPV Vaccination, according to the WHO is age 9-26 years.
The CDC also says that the Gardasil vaccine, which covers more strains, can be administered up to age 45.
WHO considers three vaccines equally protective against cervical cancer. There are currently 3 vaccines that have been prequalified, all protecting against both HPV 16 and 18, which are known to cause at least 70% of cervical cancers. The third vaccine protects against five additional oncogenic HPV types, which cause a further 20% of cervical cancers.
Two of the vaccines also protect against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause anogenital warts
Age 9-15: 2 doses offer life immunity. Second dose is taken 6-12 months after the first one.
>15 years: 3 doses offer lifetime immunity. Second dose is taken 2 months after the first one. 3rd dose is taken 6 months after the first one, ie, 4 months after the second one.
Where can I get it?
Unfortunately, this vaccine is yet to be available in our PHCs. Also, the Gardasil vaccine which is also helpful for the boys isn’t readily available in Nigeria. While we wait on the government, we have a responsibility to ourselves to remain healthy and safe.
So I recommend you talk to your healthcare provider, about vaccinating your children, especially the girls (Because their vaccine is readily available here). SMILE With Me Foundation has a list of centres across Nigeria, here.
Average rate: N9,000-15,000. Depending on the Centre.
Side note: Vaccine effectiveness drops with each rising age. This is because adolescents have a stronger immunity, and also have a reduced risk of having contacted the HPV virus, due to sexual inactivity. This means the vaccine is most effective for the non sexually active. A reason why, our boys and girls must be captured early. This will greatly reduce the scourge of all related cancers, especially eliminate cervical cancer.
Also in cervical cancer, it is recommended that all sexually active women get screened every 3-5 years for cervical cancer. Yes, even if you have been vaccinated. This is because, while you’ve been vaccinated against the popular strains, there are some other strains too (though very uncommon). Also, if a girl or woman was already infected with HPV, before vaccination… the vaccine may offer protection from other HPV strains covered by the vaccine. However, it is important to note that the vaccine doesn’t treat an already established infection. These viruses are usually non symptomatic, so there may be no way of knowing if one is infected or not, unless via a HPV screening test. The vaccine is safe, and poses no harm if one already infected, so you have nothing to lose, get vaccinated
Every last week in April, the World Health Organization and other related United Nations organizations, mark the World Immunization Week. This year 2021, with the theme ‘Vaccines bring us closer’, World Immunization Week 2021 (April 24th-30th) will show how vaccination connects us to the people, goals and moments that matter to us most, helping improve the health of everyone, everywhere throughout life.
Everyone wishes cancer had a vaccine and understandably so, but now you know these two, we can start from here. They are safe and effective in preventing these deadly infections. Get vaccinated today. If this post was informative and helpful… please share with someone in your community network.