Arm yourself with HPV vaccine

Cervical cancer is becoming a disease to be reckoned with. More than 122,000 women in India are diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 67,000 die because of the disease every year.

The most common cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). The good news is that this is a preventable disease. There are bivalent vaccines that protect against infection by two HPV strains — type 16 and type 18, which cause 70% of all cervical cancers. Once the HPV infection has developed into cancer, the symptoms are subjective to the type of cancer one may have acquired. For example, symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sexual intercourse, fatigue, weight loss, among others.

HPV vaccine is recommended for girls 11 and 12 years of age. However, doctors may also give it to girls as young as nine years. The HPV4 vaccine may also be given in three doses to boys aged nine to 26. It is important for girls to get vaccinated before their first sexual contact, as at this stage, they have not been exposed to HPV.

The WHO recommends a three-pronged approach for cervical cancer prevention and control:

  • Primary prevention: Reducing the risk of HPV infections through vaccination of the girls (9-26 years of age) and boys (9-26 years of age).
  • Secondary prevention: Early detection by means of pap tests. Most hospitals suggest women begin routine pap tests at 21 and repeat them every few years.
  • Tertiary prevention: Women suspected of having invasive cervical cancer should be referred to facilities that offer cancer diagnosis and treatment at cancer hospitals. 

(The author is consultant & surgeon — Gynaecological Oncology, Cytecare Cancer Hospitals)

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Arm yourself with HPV vaccine

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