As Japan prepares to resume promoting vaccinations against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, next spring, a woman who underwent surgery for cervical cancer after becoming infected with the virus called on people to receive inoculations.
The 35-year-old company worker in Tokyo said in an interview that HPV vaccinations are commonplace outside Japan. People should consider cervical cancer and HPV vaccines as something that is close to them, she said.
In July 2018, the woman found a bloodstain the size of a grain of rice on her underwear which was not her menstrual blood.
While she did not think much of it at first, she remembered that an acquaintance told her of a company superior who died of cervical cancer. The woman took an HPV test and found that she was positive.
Later detailed tests showed that she had developed cervical cancer. The woman was told by her doctor that she would die if the cancer was not treated, and she decided to undergo surgery.
“I thought about the possibility of a complete hysterectomy,” she said.
As HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual intercourse, she received thoughtless barbs from male friends.
She took paid leave for her surgery, but told her company that she was “going to go camping on a faraway mountain” out of fear of prejudice against her HPV diagnosis. She only told female co-workers close to her about her true reason for her time off.
The woman said that the two weeks of waiting to learn the result of her surgery felt like a living nightmare.
She had a part of her cervix removed, but was able to avoid a complete hysterectomy.
After the surgery, the woman got an HPV vaccination. She paid for it herself as she was past the eligible age for free-of-charge vaccinations. A highly effective vaccine costs some ¥100,000 for three shots.
She knew about reports of side effects, but decided to get a vaccine after looking at overseas research results.
“I didn’t want to live in fear of a relapse,” she said.
The woman said that she learned at the hospital administering the vaccine that many foreigners went there to receive shots.
“It’s hard to find symptoms of cervical cancer, so it’s easy to overlook the changes in our bodies,” she said.
“Some people don’t tell others about their illnesses,” she added. “There are many potential patients, but we don’t know about them or hear them talk about it.”
The woman called on people to get tested for HPV, pointing out that tests cost only several thousand yen.
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