Prevention of cancers caused by viruses
Infection with two viruses are strongly associated with the development of specific cancers: hepatitis B virus (HBV) causes liver cancer, and human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cancer of the cervix. Both these viruses can be transmitted by unprotected sexual intercourse. HBV infection can follow from exposure to the blood of an infected person, e.g. during healthcare. Immunization against HBV is a routine part of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (the EPI); three doses are given to all infants as part of the pentavalent vaccine (pentavalent means that five different vaccines are combined in one injection). Some high-income countries also offer immunization with a vaccine against HPV.
What advice would you give to women about protecting themselves from cancer of the cervix caused by HPV infection acquired during sexual intercourse?
The best way to prevent cervical cancer due to HPV is to follow the ABC rules for prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs):
- Abstinence (refraining from sexual intercourse)
- Be faithful (to one long-term partner)
- Condoms (correct and consistent use of condoms for all acts of sexual intercourse).
You should also teach your community that cancers that are detected early by regular self-examination are more easily treated, with a much better chance of success, than cancers where treatment begins only after a long delay. Waiting before showing a health professional a lump found anywhere in the body could mean that it is too late to save the person's life! You should also encourage people to come for cancer screening and early detection.