Your Health

Give your kids a shot at preventing cancer

Teen getting a vaccine.
Photo of Dr. Harold Nyhof DR. BUNMI FATOYE
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, October 21, 2016

Now that fall is here and the kids are back at school, it’s a good time for parents to make sure their kids are up to date on their immunizations.

Most parents with school-aged children will be familiar with the delivery of immunizations by public health nurses during the school year. These immunizations protect against diseases such as hepatitis B, meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and human papillomavirus (HPV).

It’s the last one that is of interest here: the HPV vaccine. As many parents may know, this vaccine has been recommended and offered to all Manitoba girls in Grade 6 since 2008.

This year, the vaccine is being offered to boys in Grade 8 and 9 as part of a catch-up program for those born between 2002 and 2004.

It’s also being offered to both girls and boys in Grade 6.

The HPV vaccine offers protection against cervical cancer in women, penile cancer in men, and cancers of the mouth and throat and genital warts in both sexes.

If you are a parent or guardian, you should have received a letter from your child’s school about this vaccine, if they are in Grade 6, 8 or 9. I hope you said yes to have your child receive this free and safe immunization.

Perhaps you are unsure or unaware of the facts about HPV. If so, here are a few things to consider.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada. It most commonly affects people in their late teens and early 20s. The infection can occur without any symptoms and, likewise, those infected can transmit the infection without knowing. Most infections go away by themselves, but sometimes the infection can persist and that can lead to cancer.

The main goal of the vaccine is to help prevent certain types of cancers: 70 per cent of cervical cancers; 90 per cent of anal cancers; 60 per cent of penile cancers and other cancers of the mouth, throat, vagina and vulva.

Since the introduction of the vaccine in 2008/09 school year, the uptake among girls until the 2014/15 school year ranged from 55 to 65 per cent for all three doses. In addition, there have been incremental increases observed each year following 2008. However, there is opportunity to improve upon this.

You’re probably wondering why your son or daughter should be getting this vaccine at this young age. That’s because the vaccine works much better when it’s given well before the exposure to HPV and onset of sexual activity. The vaccine is much more effective when provided to preteens than if it were given to older teens.

It’s true that it’s not common to see these types of cancers present in preteens or teens.

However, as parents, we need to think about the long-term health implications for our children, following exposure to the virus.

Once our children turn from preteens into young adults, it is more challenging to keep preventative measures up-to-date. The best time to act on giving your child a shot against cancers caused by HPV is when they are preteens.

If you missed the chance to have your son or daughter immunized against HPV at school, you can still request it from your doctor, at public health offices, nursing stations, QuickCare Clinics, ACCESS Centres and pharmacies.

If you still have questions on the HPV vaccine, speak to your primary care provider who can provide additional information.

Dr. Bunmi Fatoye is a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016.

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