Young Women Encouraged To Take Advantage Of Cervical Cancer Vaccine

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The Department of Health has joined forces with the Immunisation Alliance of Western Australia and a cervical cancer survivor to urge young women to take up the free cervical cancer vaccine.

Michelle Arrowsmith was just 31-years-old when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2006 and underwent urgent life-saving surgery.

The treatment, however, has left her unable to have her own children. “I would do anything to prevent another young woman from having to go through what I went through” she said. “When I developed cervical cancer there wasn’t a vaccine available to prevent it - but now there is and it’s is being offered for free to women up to age 26 through to the end of 2009.” “Like most young people, I never really thought something like this would happen to me.”

“Young women need to recognize that infection with Human Papilloma Virus is extremely common; almost 8 out of 10 women become infected with HPV at some time in their lives, usually in their late teens or early 20s. But getting the vaccine can prevent HPV infection as most cervical cancers are caused by HPV.”

Since July 2007 the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, has been offered free to Australian women aged 12-26 in a multi-million dollar State and Federal Government joint initiative under the National Immunisation Program.

Department of Health program co-ordinator Dr Paul Effler said the Year 7 school-based vaccination campaign had just got underway again this year and parents should make sure they have returned the consent forms so their child can receive the vaccine at school.

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He said the State had distributed 444,900 doses of HPV vaccine since the program started. “Women aged 18-26 years and teenage girls who missed out on receiving their vaccination at school can access the vaccine at their GPs office until December 2009,” he said. The vaccine is administered as a series of three injections over a period of six months.

Dr Effler said there was still time for eligible girls and women to complete the HPV vaccination schedule while it was being offered free. Otherwise, the three-dose vaccine series costs between $300-$450.

Tracy Armson, Chairperson of the Immunisation Alliance of Western Australia (IAWA) urged mothers of girls in Year 7 to sign up for the free HPV vaccine at school.

“As a mother I will do everything I can to protect my daughter from harm,” she said. “That certainly includes vaccinating her against cancer.”

“Last year more than 70 per cent of girls in WA in Year 7 got vaccinated against HPV and the associated cervical cancers. That’s a good result, but we’ve like to even more girls to benefit from the program”.

Ms Armson said that the combination of HPV vaccinations, and regular Pap smears for women who have ever been sexually active represented the best defence against cervical cancer. Ms Arrowsmith said she hasn’t let her cancer diagnosis take over her life.

“You have to move on. But if I could have prevented this, I would have,” she said. “I had a few friends who were generally not in favour of vaccinations, but after they learned about what I’ve been through, they’ve changed their minds and want to vaccinate their daughters”.

“I am hoping my story will help motivate even more women to go get vaccinated. If I help just one woman decide to protect herself - or her daughter - from cervical cancer, it will have been worth it”.

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