Some types of cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus – HPV for short. An effective vaccination against HPV is available. It lowers the risk of mouth, throat, cervical, penile and anal cancer, among other things. It is recommended for girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14.
In this post you will find child-friendly information on the subject of vaccination against cancer so that you can talk to your children.
FOR READING TO CHILDREN
In the children’s book “How about cancer” , the author Dr. Sarah Herlofsen collected frequently asked questions from children about cancer. For our blog post, Dr. Herlofsen now also questions about vaccinations and cancer. The questions and answers about reading can also be found here as a printable PDF .
WHAT HAPPENS WITH A VACCINATION?
You have probably heard of vaccination before. Maybe you even got an injection yourself? Then you know for sure that a vaccination should protect us from dangerous diseases. But how does it actually work? And what exactly happens in the body when we get vaccinated?
There are billions and billions of different viruses around us. Most of them are safe for us, but some can make us very sick.
Fortunately, your body is not watching powerlessly here. After a while, the viruses are discovered by the police cells of the defense system and an exciting hunt begins. While the viruses multiply rapidly and threaten to flood the body, your police cells try to catch the villains and render them harmless. To do this, your immune cells develop millions of tiny antibodies. These antibodies are specialized to recognize exactly this one virus.
Like little agents, they race through the bloodstream and tissues of your body to track down the last nasty intruder. They hold the viruses in place with their long tentacles. Then they trigger the alarm and call the large defense cells for help. In this way, your body usually manages to get well again on its own. Our memory cells are particularly great about our immune system. They remember exactly what the villains look like. The next time you can expose them immediately and shower them with antibodies. That way you can’t get sick from the same nasty virus again. Because of this, you will only get chickenpox once in your life, for example.
Even so, some diseases are very dangerous. Rashes such as rubella, chickenpox or measles, terrible whooping cough, inflammation in the brain, paralysis in arms and legs or life-threatening diarrhea can be triggered by such tiny viruses. The defense system sometimes has difficulty detecting them or catching the pests quickly enough for the viruses to do a lot of damage. Fortunately, researchers have found a way to use the immune system’s fantastic abilities to protect us from dangerous intruders: vaccination.
Vaccines are mostly made from dead viruses or small bits of virus. These fragments are not dangerous for us. However, they are so different from the cells in our body that the immune system immediately recognizes them as foreign. If we inject these parts of the virus into the body, the police cells build antibodies that are now specialized in precisely these building blocks. From now on, countless antibodies will patrol your body on the hunt for the virus.
Now when the living real virus comes into your body, it is ready. Antibody production in the memory cells is resumed in a flash. These recognize the viruses and render them harmless before they can multiply. If you have been vaccinated against a certain virus, it is possible that you have had this virus in your body a hundred times afterwards without even realizing it. Your antibody patrols caught it before it could do any harm. This is how a little prick can keep you from getting seriously ill.
IS THERE A VACCINATION AGAINST CANCER?
Unfortunately, the answer is not that easy. We cannot be vaccinated directly against cancer cells. However, there are vaccinations against viruses that can cause cancer. A few years ago, researchers found out that some viruses make cells in the body so sick that you can get cancer. One of these viruses is called the human papillomavirus or HPV for short. The vast majority of people will contract this virus at some point in their lives. Often you don’t even notice it because it doesn’t make us sick directly. The virus embeds itself in the cells inconspicuously and takes control there without being detected by the immune system. It injects its own blueprint into the body’s cells, which now start to build new viruses. Sometimes this blueprint is built into the DNA book of the body’s cells and it can happen that the cells are no longer doing their job properly. They only do nonsense and continue to grow unchecked. The body can become very sick and develop a cancerous tumor. HPV is one reason many people die from cancer each year.
Of course, researchers couldn’t let that go and started looking for vaccines against HPV. And their search was successful. In the vaccination against HPV, researchers use an empty virus shell. It only contains the virus’ armor, but no blueprint. In this way, the body can produce antibodies without being in danger. If a real HPV enters your body after the vaccination, you are prepared and can defeat it before it takes control of your cells.
Unfortunately, the vaccination only works if your body has never come into contact with the real virus. HPV is mainly transmitted through sex. Children are therefore not really at risk. But it is recommended that all girls and boys get vaccinated before they have their “first time”. Doctors hope that with this vaccination they can save many lives. And the nice thing is, the vaccination not only protects you, but also the person who is closest to you. If you are vaccinated, the virus cannot implant itself in you and you cannot pass it on to your boyfriend or girlfriend.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to vaccinate against all types of cancer, because cancer cannot only be caused by viruses. That is why it is also important, for example, to smear sunscreen and live healthy. Avoiding cigarettes or alcohol, getting plenty of exercise, and eating healthy can all help protect your body from cancer.
WHAT DOES A VIRUS ACTUALLY DO?
The special thing about viruses is that they cannot survive on their own. They are so small that they need the building block factories of larger host cells to build new viruses. That is why viruses attack plants, animals or people in order to multiply. If a virus gets into your body, it penetrates your cells, which are supposed to serve as a host for it.
You may remember that every cell has an exact blueprint that describes what function the cell has in the body? The virus also has blueprints written in the same DNA language. They are now smuggling their own blueprints into your cells. With the new blueprints, your cells will now begin to manufacture virus building blocks. This turns your cell into a small virus factory. Instead of helping your body, the sick cells are now building thousands and thousands of viruses that spread rapidly and infect more and more cells. Then your body can get seriously sick.