Cancer Prevention

Government Policy, Infectious Diseases, Vaccination

HPV Vaccination in the Japanese MSM Community: A Call to Action

~Written by David Boedeker (Contact:; Twitter: @dhboedeker)

HPV vaccination has faced pushback from communities since its introduction in 2006. Perhaps the most shocking story comes from Japan. In 2010, the Japanese government began to give girls ages 12 to 16 the vaccine for free. The government recommended girls receive the vaccine[1], and vaccination rates climbed. However, all of that changed in 2013 when an anti-HPV vaccination movement successfully advocated that the government withdraw its recommendation. The aftermath has been dramatic: vaccination rates dropped from roughly 70% to 1%, leaving millions of adolescents unprotected from HPV-related cancers. Interestingly, this decision coincided with the United States moving to ramp up vaccination efforts. Moreover, the scientific data that prompted the Japanese government to withdraw its recommendation is based in theories that are not biologically possible, as one critic noted[2].

In response, many researchers and physicians are advocating for increased vaccination campaigns in Japan. Historically, these initiatives have focused on females since it has been established that HPV vaccination is important to prevent cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. However, it is increasingly recognized that HPV vaccination for males is also critical, especially to prevent throat cancers, which are expected to surpass cervical cancers as the most common HPV-related cancer by 2020.

HPV infection is not only related to throat and cervical cancers; it also increases the risk of developing mouth, tongue, and anal cancers. These are all cancers men can develop, and these are all cancers that Japanese men are currently at risk of developing because they are not vaccinated. Physicians, researchers, and government officials in Japan must expand vaccination efforts to include males, particularly the men who have sex with men (MSM).

MSMs are especially susceptible to anal cancer, a rare cancer, but one that disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ community. Gay men are 20 times more likely to develop anal cancer compared to the general population, and HIV positive gay and bisexual men are 40 times more likely than the general population to develop this cancer[3].

Why must the Japanese government in particular take action? In Japan, same-sex behavior is stigmatized, which makes the LGBTQ+ community a hard-to-reach population [4] that may face challenges [5] when seeking healthcare services. These challenges may negatively impact the likelihood that they will receive the HPV vaccine. Also, the oncogenic (cancer-causing) HPV infection rate in the Japanese MSM community is 75.9%. Among MSMs who are HIV positive, the oncogenic HPV infection rate is 66% [6]. Most of these infections would have been preventable with administration of the HPV vaccine.

So, what can these government officials do? A driving force behind HPV vaccination is provider recommendation. Many patients state the reason they ultimately received the HPV vaccine is because their provider recommended it to them[7]. Some Japanese OB/GYNs are currently advocating that the government reinstate its HPV vaccination recommendation. A reinstatement might encourage more Japanese physicians to recommend the HPV vaccine, increasing the country’s vaccination rate and protecting its currently vulnerable population. However, it is important for these providers to advocate that the government not only recommend the vaccine to females, but to males as well. Moreover, this policy may benefit the MSM community by improving healthcare access and decreasing oncogenic HPV infection rates.


[1] Hanley SJB, Yoshioka E, Ito Y, Kishi R. HPV vaccination crisis in Japan. The Lancet. 2015 June 27; 385(9987): 2571. DOI:

[2] The Public Hearing on Adverse Events following HPV vaccine in Japan [Internet]. Japan: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare; 2014 Feb [cited 2016 Sep 10]. Available from:

[3] Margolies L, Goeren B. Anal cancer, HIV, and gay/bisexual men [Internet]. New York: Gay Men's Health Crisis; 2009 Sep [cited 2016 Sep 10]. Available from:

[4] Nomura Y, Poudel KC, Jimba M. Hard-to-reach populations in Japan. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 2007 Mar;38(2):325-7.

[5] Hidaka Y, Operario D, Tsuji H, et al. Prevalence of Sexual Victimization and Correlates of Forced Sex in Japanese Men Who Have Sex with Men. Stephenson R, ed. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(5):e95675. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095675.

[6] Nagata N, Watanabe K, Nishijima T, Tadokoro K, Watanabe K, Shimbo T, Niikura R, Sekine K, Akiyama J, Teruya K, Gatanaga H, Kikuchi Y, Uemura N, Oka S. Prevalence of Anal Human Papillomavirus Infection and Risk Factors among HIV-positive Patients in Tokyo, Japan. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0137434. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0137434. PMID: 26368294, PMCID: PMC4569050

[7] Hanley SJ, Yoshioka E, Ito Y, Konno R, Hayashi Y, et al. Acceptance of and attitudes towards human papillomavirus vaccination in Japanese mothers of adolescent girls. Vaccine. 2012 Aug 24;30(39):5740-7. PubMed PMID: 22796375.

Health Systems, Healthcare Workforce, Non-Communicable Diseases, Vaccination

Battling Cancer across Different Income Settings

~Written by Sarah Khalid Khan (Contact:

David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Rene Angelil, are a few of the well-known people that the world lost to cancer in the year 2015. My familiarity with cancer comes not just from losing my favourite celebrities to cancer, or dealing with patients in a tertiary care hospital in Lahore, but also from losing a few people very dear to me in my family. Every case of cancer is a battle for the person, their families, friends and doctors, as well as the healthcare system.

Cancer forms a major proportion of non-communicable diseases today. There were an estimated 14.1 million new diagnosed cases of cancer with an estimated 8.2 million deaths in 2012 (1). The most common sites of cancer have been recognized to be lung, colon, breast, liver, stomach and the cervix while the majority of cancer-related deaths are due to lung, stomach and esophageal cancer (2). Previously, cancer remained a low priority for low income (LICs) and low middle income countries (LMICs), as well as for donors (3). In 2008 72% of deaths due to cancer occurred in LICs and LMICs (4).  This may be a consequence of not only longer life spans and the majority of the world’s population being in the LIC and LMIC countries but also a lack of accessible and affordable treatment in these parts of the world.

Estimated global numbers of new cases and deaths with proportaions by major world  regions, for all malignant cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) in both sexes combined, 2012. Source: The Cancer Atlas

While higher income countries have progressed from chemotherapy and radiotherapy to gene therapy, LMICs continue to focus on finding ways for uneducated or less educated to identify cancerous conditions in order to seek medical help before it is too late, for instance promoting breast self-examination. The increasing prevalence of cancer in LMICs exasperates the health sector with an already increasing burden of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhea. In these contexts cancer contributes to altering the epidemiology of these countries adding to the burden of non-communicable diseases which in turn worsens the double burden of disease. This creates considerable strain on the healthcare system due to increasing needs of diagnostic and treatment modalities besides the already unmet needs concerning infectious diseases.

There is an immense need for healthcare systems in resource poor settings to focus more on prevention rather than cure. Health professionals working in LMICs need to place greater emphasis on informing and educating people about warning signs of cancer as many resource poor settings have technology constraints and limited means of gaining health information. There are no quick fixes and circumstances are never as simple as they seem. Campaigns against smoking to prevent lung cancer have been addressed by discussions advocating for the rights of the poor who own tobacco farms as their only source of income (5). Modification of social behaviours for instance, requires extensive out-reach programmes by medical professionals but also bring into question the financial constraints of the country in order to pay for the services of these local healthcare workers.

In summary, LICs and LMICs have a longer way to go to provide sufficient healthcare for cancer patients. While high income countries are more likely to make medical advances for cancer treatment, resource poor countries can make strides through preventive measures like vaccination, behaviour modification and self-examination.

References :

  1. Cancer. WHO Media Centre. World Health Organization; 2016 [cited 2016 Feb 14]. Available from:
  2. World Cancer Report published by the International Agency for Cancer Research, WHO
  3. Scaling up cancer diagnosis and treatment in developing countries: what can we learn from the HIV/AIDS epidemic? Can Treat International. Ann Oncol [Internet]. 2010;21(4):680–2. Available from:
  4. Cancer in Developing Countries International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research. INCTR. 2016 [cited 2016 Feb 14]. Available from:
  5. Tobacco Company Strategies to Undermine Tobacco Control Activities at the World Health Organization. Committee of Experts on Tobacco Industry Documents. World Health Organization. 2000.
  6. International Women ’ s Day 2014 : women ’ s health equity is progress for all. Ginsburg O. 2014.