The Korea Herald


[Feature] Should men be vaccinated to prevent cervical cancer in women?

Korea’s national immunization program cites economic inefficiency in leaving men out of HPV virus vaccination

By Lim Jeong-yeo

Published : Dec. 22, 2019 - 16:59

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Although not many realize it, men should also be vaccinated to prevent female cervical cancer as the virus can be easily transmitted, according to health experts.

“By changing of sexual partners, men can transfer the HPV virus from other women. If the governmental budget allows, it’s ideal for the national immunization program to include males in the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination before they experience sex to reduce the risk of female cervical cancer,” said Lee Jae-kwan, a gynecologist at Korea University Guro Hospital, speaking on behalf of the Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Persistent HPV infection is the main cause of cervical cancer. It is infected through sexual intercourse, and takes about five to 10 years to develop into cancer.

In a domestic study carried out in South Korea between 2006 and 2011, 34.2 percent of 60,775 women aged between 18 and 79, were affected by the HPV virus.

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HPV infection was most common in women aged between 18 to 29, at 49.9 percent.

From 2016, the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention started to give government-sponsored, free HPV vaccination to girls aged 12. The nationally subsidized HPV vaccines are Gardasil 2 and Gardasil 4 from MSD, which can prevent two to four types of HPV virus infection, respectively.

There are over 200 types of HPV viruses, of which 40 are transmitted through sexual intercourse. About 75 to 80 percent of men and women in the US are infected with HPV virus at least once in their lifetime, MSD said. In the early stages of infection, 80 to 90 percent of the HPV virus infection naturally goes away through personal immune response.

MSD’s Gardasil 2, 4 and 9, each cover different types of HPV viruses known to cause most serious illnesses among the 200 types. The pharmaceutical company recommends females and males aged between 9 and 26 to be vaccinated for HPV, and says that even after the age of 26, the vaccine gives some protection if the person has never been HPV-infected.

The KCDC is yet to include males for HPV vaccination. If men wish to receive vaccination they must pay 200,000 won ($172) to 300,000 won. Just as in women, HPV virus infection in men results in genital warts and cancer in the anal area. The US, Canada and Australia provide HPV vaccination for men.

“Vaccinating boys for HPV virus is a low-priority in the list of vaccines the KCDC has in plans for expansion. The KCDC has until April to determine the standards for deciding on this priority. The center must think about cost effectivitness,” said a KCDC researcher. The budget for 2020 national HPV vaccination is 16.4 billion won.

National Cancer Center’s report dated 2013 indicated that 7.1 out of 100,000 Korean women had cervical cancer. That figure went down by slightly to seven out of 100,000 in October 2016. The death toll resulting from cervical cancer in 2014 was 1.9 per 100,000 Korean women and 1.7 among 100,000 in 2017.

Early detection of the disease through periodic tests led to faster treatments and improved the chances of full recovery, KCDC official said. The KCDC offers free cervical cancer tests for women every other year.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer afflicting the female population worldwide. Global health journal Lancet reports that in 2018, approximately 570,000 women developed cervical cancer and 311,000 women died from it.

In Korea, biologics companies Genexine and BioLeaders are carrying out clinical trials to develop treatments for cervical cancer. Genexine’s pipeline is aimed at treating patients whose condition relapsed. Nearly half of the patients who were treated for cervical cancer experience relapse, a Genexine official said.

US companies Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Iovance Biotherapeutics as well as Japan’s KinoPharma are also pursuing the project.

Gynecologists should be aware of more young women in Korea experiencing multiple sex partners, and adopt necessary protocols to help care for health complications that may arise through sexual intercourse, the Korean Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology alerted its members in the 2019 spring scholarly gathering.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (