Launch of the HPV awareness campaign „Against HPV. Against cancer. For life.“
07.11.2023 08:00 Europe/Zurich
Lucerne, November 7th, 2023 – 50% of all (cancer) diseases caused by infection in developed countries are related to HPV. At the same time, 85–90% of all people become infected with human papilloma viruses (HPV) over the course of their lives (see figure). Most sexually active men and women will become infected at some point in their lives, and some may have repeated infections. That‘s why in November, MSD is launching a new and widespread public education campaign with the motto: “Against HPV. Against cancer. For Life.” in Zurich, Bern and French-speaking Switzerland, which is supported by numerous organizations from the health sector such as HPV Alliance, Schweizer Krebsliga, Santé Sexuelle, Schweizer Aidshilfe, KF Kosumentenforum, Roche Diagnostic, SWICA, SGDV, Medswissnet, SVA and OneDoc. The mission of the campaign is clear: A Switzerland without (cancer) diseases caused by HPV.
As part of the campaign, parents and young people will be informed about comprehensive prevention of HPV-related (cancer) diseases through online articles, social media, digital outdoor advertising as well as various print media. Parents will be reached at the cantonal level using an emotional approach, while young adults will be addressed via attention-grabbing communication. The goal is to make HPV visible to the population because: HPV affects everyone and should therefore not be a taboo topic.
Doctors and medical professionals will also make an important contribution in this respect, as they will be provided with comprehensive information as part of the campaign and can therefore pass on the MSD information documents to their patients, if necessary. In this way, patients are encouraged to find out about HPV prevention early enough or to seek advice directly from their medical practice.
HPV in numbers
- 85–90% of all people become infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) during their lifetime.
- Most of the time the viruses disappear on their own. However, some of the HPV types can trigger highly undesirable genital warts, while others can cause cancer in the genital, anal or oral areas.
- At least 14 of the over 200 HPV types are considered so-called “HPV high-risk types” and are carcinogenic.
- 50% of all infection-related (cancer) diseases in developed countries are related to HPV.
- 4.5% of all (cancer) diseases worldwide can be traced back to this kind of HPV infection.
- In Switzerland, on average, one woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer every day, and 80 die from it every year.
- Cervical cancer is almost exclusively caused by a previous, persistent infection with human papillomavirus.
- Anal cancer, and cancer of the mouth and throat affect both women and men. The development of genital warts is also a typical possible consequence of an HPV infection, and more than 800.000 men and women in Europe are estimated to have them.
Why HPV prevention is so important
Cervical cancer is by far the most common HPV-related (cancer) disease. Almost all cases of cervical cancer can be traced back to an HPV infection. Cervical cancer takes 10 to 30 years to develop in women with normal immune systems. In women with weakened immune systems, for example in the case of an untreated HIV infection, it only takes 5 to 10 years. Early HPV screening can help to significantly reduce the number of affected people. There is no medication that can cure an HPV infection.
The consequences of infection with HPV, i.e., genital warts or precancerous lesions, can be prevented primarily by regular screenings, the use of condoms and HPV vaccination. Every year numerous treatments for precancerous lesions as well as new diagnoses of cervical cancer could be avoided. This is one of the key reasons why the HPV awareness campaign is so invaluable. A Switzerland without HPV-related (cancer) diseases is possible, but this will only work through educational measures such as the HPV information campaign “Against HPV. Against cancer. For life.“
The campaign is aimed specifically at young men
The campaign is aimed at parents and young adults. The focus here is on comprehensive information, especially for boys and young men, about the risks of an HPV infection and how to prevent against it. What is particularly striking is that the vaccination rates for boys and young men are still far behind those of girls and young women. However, HPV vaccination is no less important for boys and young men, as they can also become infected with the HP virus and pass it on. Most of the time the viruses disappear on their own.
However, some of the HPV types can trigger highly undesirable genital warts, while others can cause cancer in the genital, anal or oral/throat areas. The Bundesamt für Gesundheit (BAG) [Federal Office of Public Health] has set the vaccination target rate for men and women at 80%; currently only 49% of men are vaccinated against HPV (last updated: September 2023).
According to the professional journal Swiss Medical Forum, up to 30 percent of HPV-related cancer diagnoses affect men. Men can suffer from HPV-related mouth and throat cancer, penile cancer or genital warts, among other things. In Europe, 2.400 men are diagnosed with HPV-related anal cancer, 5.000 with oropharyngeal cancer and 1.000 with penile cancer every year. According to the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG), over 80% of anal cancer cases can be traced back to HP viruses.
How to prevent HPV
Most people become infected with HPV for the first time after becoming sexually active. In addition to recurring preventive examinations for HPV-related (cancer) diseases (such as cervical smears, “pap tests”), condoms or female condoms offer a certain, but not completely reliable, protection against the transmission of HPV. HPV can also be transmitted through the skin or mucous membranes which are not covered by the condom. HPV vaccination continues to offer additional protection. It can be used to prevent the transmission of certain HP viruses.
The Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) therefore recommends the HPV vaccination to all young people between the ages of 11 and 26. Ideally, this should be administered before the first sexual contact. Nonetheless, vaccination is still worthwhile for people who are already sexually active.
Anyone who has previously been infected with a certain type of HPV virus, can still benefit from the protection of vaccination against other types of viruses. In addition, the vaccination protects against a possible new infection (re-infection) by HP viruses.
A glance into the future
In Sweden, a study showed that women who were vaccinated between the ages of 10 and 30 have a significantly reduced risk of developing cervical cancer. HPV vaccination before the age of 17 reduced the risk of developing cervical cancer by 88%.
Looking at Australia, it is clear that you can also protect others with the help of HPV vaccination, where herd immunity was able to develop after the introduction of the gender-neutral HPV vaccination. This is also possible in Switzerland, but will only work through educational measures, for example the HPV awareness campaign “Against HPV. Against cancer. For life.“ as well as advice from doctors and medical professionals working in Switzerland.
Links for further information
- Bundesamt für Gesundheit, Schweizerischer Impfplan (Federal Office of Public Health, Swiss vaccination plan) 2023, HPV Link https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/de/home/gesund-leben/gesundheitsfoerderung-und-praevention/impfungen-prophylaxe/schweizerischer-impfplan.html
- MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme AG) Schweiz Website link www.msd.ch
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