Concern rises as cancer vaccines still on hold

Updated: 2012-02-10 14:43

By Shan Juan and Fan Feifei (China Daily)

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BEIJING/HONG KONG - When 23-year-old teacher Liu Yuqi had her annual medical check-up recently, her main concern was about cervical cancer.

Her aunt was diagnosed with the disease in 2010.

"I'm thinking about getting the HPV vaccine which protects me from cervical cancer next time I travel to Hong Kong because it's not yet available on the mainland," said Liu, a math teacher at a Beijing middle school.

According to the World Health Organization, cancer of the cervix is the second most common cancer in women globally, with about 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths each year.

In China, at least 100,000 women are diagnosed and about 40,000 die from it each year on the mainland, statistics from the Ministry of Health show.

Chen Yong, a director of the Ciming Check-up Group, which specializes in health screening, said they had received an increasing number of enquiries in recent years about the vaccine that prevents genital infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV), a cause of cervical cancer.

Two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are being used in more than 100 countries and regions but are not yet available in China, except in Hong Kong.

In some countries, such as UK and Japan, and in regions of Italy, Spain and Malaysia, HPV vaccination is provided free.

"Unfortunately, the Chinese drug authority has yet to approve any of the vaccines," said Chen. "So we can only refer our customers to partner clinics in HK that provide them."

Francois Fong, a sex therapist at Neo-Health Care in Hong Kong, said they launched a HPV vaccine service for mainland women three years ago and there were about 40 to 50 coming each year.

"Most are between 20 and 30 years old," he said.

The best time for HPV immunization for girls is before they become sexually active. It can be given to girls as young as 9, according to Qiao Youlin, vice-chairman of the advisory board for early detection and treatment of cancers at the Ministry of Health.

It is not recommended for pregnant women.

Esthel Kong, a nurse from TY Healthcare Center in Hong Kong, said the HPV vaccine should be given in three doses over a period of 6 months. Each dose cost HK$ 1,280 ($165).

"As far as I see, the number of mainland consumers has increased a little recently," she said.

Qiao Youlin expected that the availability of the vaccines on the mainland would help contain HPV infection.

"It's kind of urgent because as the Chinese become more open about sex, HPV infections would be on the rise," he said.

According to the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), manufacturers of both vaccines had filed applications to market them in China.

"We have submitted the application to SFDA and the clinical trials for Cervarix are under way in China," said Sharon Zhang, corporate communications and public relations director of GlaxoSmithKline China.