HPV Vaccination

What is HPV?

HPV is a sexually transmitted viral infection that is spread through skin-to-skin contact. HPV remains one of the most prevalent STIs globally:

  • Nearly 7 out of 10 people are infected at some point in their lifetime
  • HPV is the leading cause of sexually-related cancers and lesions

There are at least 100 different strains of HPV, of which more than 40 of them are transmitted via sexual contact, affecting your throat, mouth as well as genitals.
HPV can be classified under two major types:

  • Low risk HPV (e.g. HPV 6, HPV 11)
  • High risk HPV (e.g. HPV 16, HPV 18)

What are some of the most common HPV symptoms?

On most occasions, HPV infections don’t result in any noticeable symptoms and will often disappear on their own. But in rare cases, persistent infections can trigger the following symptoms:

  • Genital warts that can manifest as small itchy, skin bumps.
  • Common warts that exhibit rough, raised growths that develop on your fingers, hands, or elbows.
  • Flat warts that appear as smooth, dark, and slightly raised lesions.
  • Plantar warts that appear as hard spots on your heels or balls of your feet.

Important: Precancerous HPV strains don’t form warts; they don’t exhibit symptoms and can only be identified through HPV tests or PAP smears.

What are the complications of HPV?

Even though most HPV infections –especially those involving low-risk HPVs are generally harmless– HPV infections can still result in cancer.
In this respect, your risk of developing cancer is relatively high if you have:

  • A compromised immune system
  • Contracted the high-risk HPV types such as HPV 16 and HPV 18.

The most common types of cancer caused by HPV may include penile, cervical, anal, as well as the throat or oropharyngeal cancer.

Can HPV be cured?

Most HPV infections, particularly those that don’t show any symptoms, don’t require any treatment because the virus will diminish by itself. Treatment is only warranted if pre-cancerous growths develop, or when the infection has resulted in cancer.

However, there is no cure for HPV – meaning your body naturally gets rid of the virus. Nearly 80% of those infected by HPV are able to naturally eliminate the virus from their body within 24 months. But if this doesn’t happen, the infected individual will either develop genital warts or cancer.

The best way to protect yourself from HPV is by getting the HPV vaccine.

What is the HPV vaccine?

Bearing in mind that there is no cure or direct treatment for HPV, the best way to curb HPV infection is through vaccination.
While the vaccine does not provide 100% protection, it still protects against numerous high and low-risk strains of HPV. Notably, it substantially minimizes your risk of cervical cancer.
On that note, while the HPV vaccine is often marketed by the government as prevention against cervical cancer in women, the vaccine also benefits men in equal measure.

HPV vaccination may help curb conditions such as

  • Vaginal, cervical, and vulva cancer in women.
  • Genital warts in both men and women.
  • Anal, penile, and oral cancer in men.

What HPV vaccines are available in Singapore?

In general, there are three distinct types of HPV vaccines in Singapore. Each vaccine offers protection against different HPV strains. Below is a brief description of the available vaccines:

CervarixGardasil 4Gardasil 9
  • Offers protection against the two most prevalent cancer-causing HPV strains; HPV 16 and HPV 18
  • Only suitable for females up to the age of 26
  • Offers the least coverage
  • Most common HPV vaccine in Singapore
  • Suitable for both genders
  • Protects against four strains of HPV, including HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18
  • Minimizes a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer by 30%
  • Newest vaccine in the market
  • Offers the most coverage
  • Covers HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18
  • Protects against rare but high-risk HPV strains such as 31, 33, 45, and 58
  • Suitable for both genders up to 45 years old
  • Reduces individual risk of developing HPV-related cancers by up to 90%

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

HPV vaccination is recommended particularly for females and young individuals. This is because of the well-documented association between HPV and cervical cancer.
However, men should get the HPV vaccination too – HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can affect anybody regardless of gender.
For best effects, you should get vaccinated as early as possible – ideally before you get exposed to any type of HPV. This is because the HPV vaccine does not treat or cure any existing HPV infections.
The vaccine only offers protection against HPV subtypes that you are yet to contract. If you are sexually active, it is well worth getting vaccinated for HPV to help protect yourself as well as your partners. Getting vaccinated may still provide you protection against the other types of HPV that you may have not been exposed to.

Who is not eligible for the HPV vaccine?

You may not be the best candidate for the HPV vaccine if you are:

  • Pregnant
  • Allergic or sensitive to any of the components of the vaccine
  • Suffering from a severe infectious illness

What are the potential side effects of the vaccine?

Like any other type of vaccination, this particular vaccine may cause some mild side effects, ranging from fatigue, headache, fever, and nausea to dizziness and pain or swelling at the site of vaccination.

FAQs

Who is at risk of developing cervical cancer?
Are there any HPV tests or screenings in Singapore?
How do you get the HPV vaccine?
Can you still go for an HPV vaccine even if you are sexually active?

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