Women who choose to receive vaccinations against cervical cancer would receive financial aid under a plan envisioned by the government, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said earlier this year. It’s time the administration took action on this idea.
The health ministry approved the cervical-cancer vaccine in October (rather late, compared to other countries), and vaccinations have been available since December. But the vaccine is not covered under Japan’s health insurance scheme. Therefore, a woman who receives the vaccination must pay ¥40,000 to ¥50,000.
Cervical cancer is caused by the commonplace human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 types of HPV; some 15 types, transmitted most commonly through sexual intercourse, can lead to cervical cancer. It is thought that 80 percent of Japanese women will become infected by HPV during their lifetime.
In many cases, natural immunity prevents the development of cervical cancer. However, it is estimated that each year about 15,000 women in Japan develop the cancer, and about 3,500 die from the disease. In the past, cervical cancer was most likely to affect women in their 40s and 50s. These days, incidence is higher among women in their 20s and 30s.
Unlike most other cancers, cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination, with a high success rate. Efficacy is maximized by giving vaccinations, which require a course of three injections, to girls in their early teens.
The vaccine is available in more than 100 countries. In some 30 of those, including Germany and the Netherlands, the vaccination is covered by public health insurance or public subsidies.
In Japan, some municipalities, including in the city of Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture and the city of Uonuma in Niigata Prefecture, are offering subsidies. The government should immediately use tax money to provide wider access to vaccination against cervical cancer, a move that will likely save many women’s lives.
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