Wouldn’t you sit up and pay attention if we told you that you could get vaccinated against cancer? Well, you can, at least for cervical cancer. It’s as easy as getting an HPV vaccine – and it can cost as little as $300 in Singapore for adults (and nothing at all for schoolchildren).
Read on for the complete guide to how the HPV vaccine works, where to get your jabs, and how much it costs here.
What is HPV and how is it linked to cervical cancer?
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a group of more than 100 viruses that’s quite widespread around the world. Anyone who’s having sex can contract HPV. Even if you’ve only had sex with one person. Even if it’s protected sex. In fact, just skin-to-skin genital contact can get you infected.
Most people who are sexually active would have been infected at some point in their lives. In Singapore, about 1 in 10 healthy women have HPV – and most of us probably don’t know it.
Because HPV testing isn’t routinely recommended (unlike HIV) and you may also be symptomless for years after being infected, it is easy to pass on the virus unwittingly.
Thankfully, for about 90% of HPV infections, the body naturally gets rid of the infection.
It’s what the other 10% can do to you, however, that’s worrying. For the more benign strains of HPV (like type 6 and 11), catching it will give you genital warts or respiratory papillomatosis (where tumours grow in the air passages from the nose and mouth to the lungs).
The more malevolent strains of HPV cause cancers, of which cervical cancer is the most common. Nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be attributable to HPV infection. In particular, HPV 16 and 18 are what cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
There is also evidence linking HPV to cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina and penis as well as cancer of the back of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils.
What kind of HPV vaccines are there? What’s the difference?
HPV vaccines are a relatively new thing – the very first one became available in 2006.
The HPV vaccine gives you varying levels of protection against cervical cancer (70%) as well as other cancers e.g. anal (60%), vulva (40%) and possibly mouth cancer. They also prevent genital and anal warts (90%).
Currently there are 3 types of HPV vaccines available in Singapore and they protect against different strains of the virus.
|HPV vaccine||Protects against HPV types|
|Gardasil 4 (4-valent vaccine)||6, 11, 16, 18|
|Gardasil 9 (9-valent vaccine)||6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33,45, 52, 58|
|Cervarix (only for women)||16, 18|
As you can see, Cevarix offers the “bare minimum” protection, against the 2 major culprits behind cervical cancer. It’s not commonly available.
Gardasil 4, called the 4-valent HPV vaccine because it protects against 4 strains, is the one that’s commonly offered at most clinics. The newest and best HPV vaccine is called Gardasil 9, and it protects against 9 strains.
Regardless of which HPV vaccine you go for, the procedure is the same: typically 3 injections over 6 months, each given a few months apart. Does the HPV vaccine hurt? No more than regular vaccinations. There might be some redness and swelling at the site, and you might get a fever, but that’s about it.
How much does the HPV vaccine cost in Singapore?
HPV vaccines are available at many healthcare facilities in Singapore – from polyclinics and public hospitals to GPs, gynaecology clinics and private hospitals. Here’s a sampling of how much they cost here:
|Clinic in Singapore||Cost||Type of HPV vaccine|
|DSC Clinic||$285||Gardasil 4|
|Polyclinics (up to age 26 only)||$360||Cervarix|
|Kensington Family Clinic||$360||Gardasil 4|
|Asia HealthPartners||$374.60||Cervarix / Gardasil 4|
|Dr Tan and Partners||$450||Gardasil 4|
|Zenith Medical||$480||Gardasil 4|
|KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital||$531||Gardasil 9|
|DSC Clinic||$570||Gardasil 9|
|Kensington Family Clinic||$600||Gardasil 9|
|Asia HealthPartners||$642||Gardasil 9|
|Mount Elizabeth Hospital||$690||Gardasil 9|
|Dr Tan and Partners||$744||Gardasil 9|
As you can see, the vaccine options vary quite a bit. For example, you would think polyclinics are the cheapest option, but they only offer the “weakest” HPV vaccine, Cervarix.
You can use up to $500 of your Medisave to pay for the HPV vaccine, but only Cervarix and Gardasil 4. Unfortunately, Medisave doesn’t cover the newest Gardasil 9 vaccine, which is the most expensive one that affords the most protection.
When should you (or your child) get vaccinated?
Girls as well as boys can be vaccinated as young as age 9. We’re sure it’s difficult for parents to imagine their little angel becoming sexually active one day. Nonetheless, the government has been encouraging girls aged 9 to 26 years to get the HPV vaccine under the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule.
From April 2019, all 13-year-old girls in Singapore (citizens and PRs) can get the HPV vaccine for free. This is entirely an opt-in thing and parents must give their consent.
There’s been a bit of an uproar over this, as though the Ministry of Health were telling your teenage daughter that it’s perfectly safe to have casual sex.
Whatever your thoughts are on that, take a moment to remember that the HPV vaccine is basically ineffective if administered too late. The vaccine is a preventive measure, not a treatment. So, it’s best to be vaccinated before you become sexually active.
FYI, boys can also be vaccinated also. Men, too, can catch and spread HPV, and HPV can develop into cancers of the throat, genitals or anus in men. There is no national healthcare programme to subsidise HPV vaccines for boys, but you can pay with his CDA account at polyclinics and public hospitals (but not private GPs and gynaecology clinics).
In any case, many of us only think about getting vaccinated in adulthood. It’s still worth getting the HPV vaccine though, because it would protect you if you haven’t caught the virus before.
Is the HPV vaccine really foolproof against cervical cancer?
Most women who’re interested in the HPV vaccine are interested in preventing cervical cancer. It’s not foolproof though, just so you know. The vaccine gives you only about 70% protection against cervical cancer.
Still, we think the HPV vaccine is pretty worth the money. Current studies that have followed people who’ve been vaccinated over a period of 10 years have found that the protection remains just as strong over time. (But because the vaccine hasn’t been around that long, so there’s no saying if the protection will last beyond a decade.)
What else can be done against cervical cancer? Regular screening, through Pap smears, is a must, particularly if you’re not vaccinated.
There is, as yet, no cure for the big C. But the HPV vaccine is as good as it gets – it’s easy, relatively affordable, long-lasting and as effective as it gets.
Know anyone who’s gotten the HPV vaccine? Share your experiences in the comments!
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