Q: I have two daughters, aged 17 and 23. I would like them to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV). What are the advantages of getting this injection for girls their age and what are the risks?
Also, where should we go to get the injections and how much would it cost?
A: Having both girls undergo the HPV vaccination is a good way to help ward off the risks of developing cervical cancer later.
HPV infection is very common in both men and women and can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
The virus may then cause changes in the cervical cells and lead to cervical cancer.
There are many different sub-types of HPV.
Of these, some have a higher risk of causing cervical cancer while others may cause genital warts.
There are two types of HPV vaccines available - Cervarix and Gardasil.
Both are designed to prevent infections by HPV types 16 and 18 which cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers. They are administered over a course of three injections.
In addition, Gardasil provides protection against HPV types 6 and 11 which cause 90 per cent of genital warts.
The vaccines are approved for use in girls from the age of nine.
As with all vaccines, the HPV vaccine is effective before there is any infection.
Therefore, the maximum benefit of vaccination occurs when the vaccines are given before the start of sexual activity.
Women who are sexually active, however, may still benefit from the vaccine, as they may not have been exposed to the HPV sub-types covered by the vaccine.
After vaccination, it is important to continue going for regular PAP smears as the vaccine does not provide protection against 100 per cent of cancer-causing HPV sub-types.
Women aged 25 and above who have had sex before should undergo regular Pap smear screening.
The risks are minimal.
Some common side effects include bleeding or bruising at the injection site.
However, the vaccination should be avoided if there may be an allergy, for instance sensitivity to yeast or to any of the vaccine components, or if there is a bleeding disorder that causes bleeding to occur more easily.
The injections should be available at your gynaecologist or your general practitioner.
The total cost for three injections is typically around $450 to $500.
Patients can also use up to $400 per Medisave account per year, under the Medisave400 scheme, to pay for the HPV vaccination.
Patients can use their own Medisave or that of their immediate family members (parents or spouse) to help pay for the vaccination.
Dr Kelly LoiObstetrician & gynaecologist, fertility and in-vitro fertilisation specialist at the Health & Fertility Centre for Women at Paragon Medical Suites
This article was first published on July 31, 2014. Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.