SINGAPORE - A 10-minute educational session is all it takes to significantly increase the willingness of young women to be vaccinated for the virus responsible for cervical cancer, a study here has found.
The findings are significant, as cervical cancer is the 10th most common cancer in women in Singapore, and is one of the few cancers that are preventable by vaccination.
The study, conducted by SingHealth Polyclinics in 2014 and published this year, surveyed 150 female students aged 15 to 19 years old from Hwa Chong Junior College twice - once before an educational session and once after.
During the session, each student viewed a slideshow about cervical cancer including information about human papillomavirus (HPV) which is the virus responsible for the cancer, and the role of HPV vaccination in preventing the cancer.
Before the session, about one in four students had heard of the HPV vaccine. Only six students, or 4 per cent of those surveyed, were already vaccinated against the virus.
Among those who were not vaccinated, about one-third said they were willing to be vaccinated, while most of the remaining students were ambivalent.
After the session, however, the proportion of students willing to be vaccinated increased to more than half, and the percentage of students ambivalent towards the vaccination fell to less than half.
Among the five students who said they were unwilling to be vaccinated because it was too expensive, too troublesome or not sexually active, only one student remained unwilling after the educational session.
"This shows that a simple education session can affect their decision-making in getting vaccinated," said family physician Dr Sarah Lim, the researcher involved in the study. "As knowledge of cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine improved, so did the acceptability of the vaccine."
There are currently two vaccines available in Singapore - Cervarix and Gardasil - which protect against two major strains of HPV that cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
While the vaccines have been available under the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule since 2010, it is not compulsory.
Since 2010, women have also been able to use their Medisave accounts to pay for the vaccines, but it is not clear whether more people have gotten vaccinated as a result.
Across the nine SingHealth polyclinics, the number of people getting vaccinated against HPV has increased 1,422 patients in 2014 to 1,536 last year. Patients were between nine and 26 years old.
Dr Lim said she hopes the findings will lead to a structured educational programme on cervical cancer and HPV vaccination for young women, incorporated into existing sex education programmes in schools.