January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, a disease that can be prevented with vaccination.
Globally, the disease is both the fourth most common type of cancer and the fourth most common cause of cancer death in women. Bulgaria specifically has the third highest incidence and fourth highest cancer mortality rate in Europe, and cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death in young women aged 15-44 after breast cancer.
And in fact the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the leading cause of this and other cancers, can be prevented with gender-neutral vaccination and regular screening. Our country has had a National Cervical Cancer Prevention Program in place for 11 years. The vaccine for girls 10-14 years is provided by the government and not paid for by patients. Bulgaria is thus part of more than 150 countries worldwide with working vaccination programmes. In our country, however, vaccination coverage remains at only 3%. By comparison, according to WHO data, Norway’s vaccination coverage is 91%, Portugal’s is 89% and Spain’s is 81% – countries where the disease has been virtually eradicated and a whole generation of vaccinated parents have already vaccinated their children.
Misinformation and fake news are among the reasons why vaccination rates remain low, says Plamena Nikolova, Director of Policies for Children at the National Network for Children and Co-Chair of the European PROTECT-EUROPE Project, which works to better inform doctors and young parents about the vaccine against the disease. She says many people in the EU are not aware of the risks of the Human Papilloma Virus and that prevention is possible.
Without decisive action, cancer cases in the EU will increase by 24% by 2035, statistics show. Be aware of the problem!
Cervical cancer most often affects women over the age of 30. Infection with certain strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer.
HPV is a common virus that is transmitted through sexual contact. At least half of sexually active women will have HPV at some point in their lives, and the risk of cancer is preventable. An awareness campaign is needed about the need to prevent HPV-related diseases and the absolute safety of the modern HPV vaccine.
The national programme offers free HPV vaccination for girls aged 10-14 years, administered by the GP. The vaccine is nine-valent – it protects against nine of the most dangerous strains of HPV and enables the prevention of many cancers. Find out what you need to know about the 9-valent vaccine, which is given from the age of 9 to 45, in this interview with Dr. Yordanka Uzunova, Head of the Pediatrics Clinic at Lozenets Hospital and representative of the HPV Coalition, for Patient Portal.
Here are more sources to inform yourself:
More about the disease – Patient Portal article.
More information and data on Bulgaria and other countries with national cervical cancer prevention programs is available in the current handbook of the Bulgarian Pediatric Association here.
Many information resources are also available on the HPV Coalition website.
A reminder that in the summer of 2023, a new HPV vaccine will be available. The Bulgarian Paediatric Association has insisted on accelerating the implementation of the National Programme for Primary Prevention of Cervical Cancer, with the goal of increasing the vaccination rate in the target group to 15 in the first year, to 25 in the second year, and to 35% in the third year.
The human papillomavirus does not only affect women, but also men, and is thought to cause more than 10 malignancies. Over 90% of cases of infection go undetected, leading to severe and serious consequences. For this reason, in quite a few countries, both girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 19 are vaccinated. In recent months, the Ministry of Health has indicated that it will consider including the HPV vaccine in the mandatory immunization calendar in Bulgaria. We await the Ministry’s decision.