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Most Cervical Cancers Are Caused By HPV Infections: Get Vaccinated to Protect Yourself And Others

HPV vaccination is recommended to lower the chances of developing cervical cancer. But who all can take HPV vaccines and when?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a viral infection that is mainly transmitted through sexual contact. Majority of the HPV infections are asymptotic and automatically clear out from the immune system on their own within sometime. But persistent infections can cause health problems like genital warts and even cancers. According to the US CDC, HPV can cause cervical cancer as well as cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and oropharynx. HPV vaccination is recommended to lower the chances of getting HPV and the health problems it can cause.

Now the question is: Who all can take HPV vaccines and when? In this article, Dr. Saphalta, Sr Consultant Medical Oncology, Max Superspeciality Hospital, Vaishali, answers this question as well as explains the link between HPV infection and cervical cancer.

HPV infections and cervical cancer

Persistent HPV infections may lead to certain pre-cancerous changes in the cervix which may gradually progress into cervical cancer. As most of the HPV infections are asymptotic and do not show any persistent symptoms in the early stages, it is necessary to get vaccinated to reduce the burden of preventable cervical cancer cases. Cervical cancer can be prevented in more than 90 per cent of the cases.

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Being a sexually transmitted infection, HPV gradually affects the cervix and can also lead to vaginal and vulvar cancer if not detected timely. Widespread immunisation can, not only reduce the number of cases but also eliminate the impact of such types of cancers. In addition to this, it also helps in the prevention of genital warts and anal cancer in both men and women.

As the protection from HPV vaccine is long lasting, timely administration is must and should be provided in the right age. A regular cervical cancer screening is also recommended for those with a family history of the condition. Timely vaccination is advised even for those in the early stages of cervical cancer, as the vaccine also aids in protection against various other HPV infections.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide. There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus, of which at least 14 are cancer-causing. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV 16 and 18, and thus vaccines that protect against these viruses are highly recommended.

Who should take the HPV vaccine and when?

HPV vaccines are given (in inactivated forms) as a prevention for four major types of HPV infections. The HPV vaccines are licensed for girls and women in the age bracket of 9 years to 45 years of age, administered in 3 shots with a time interval of 6 months. The ideal age for administering HPV vaccine is adolescence. Such vaccinations are highly safe and effective in preventing the risk of developing cervical cancers.

When the vaccine is administered before the age of 14 years, then a gap of 6 months to one year between two doses is sufficient. But if the vaccine is taken after 14 years, then three doses are required. When three doses are needed to be administered, the second dose is given after 1-2 months of first dose, and the third one should be given with a gap of at least six months after the first dose.

Types of HPV vaccines

Three types of HPV vaccines are available, namely

Cervarix This vaccine helps in protecting against type 16 and type 18 of HPV, which is a prime factor for causing HPV cancers.

Gardasil This vaccine helps in protecting against four types of HPV including Type 16, type 18, type 31 and type 33.

Gardasil 9 As the name suggests this vaccine helps in protecting against 9 various types of HPV namely type 6, type 11, type 16, type 18, type 31, type 33, type 45, type 52 and type 58.

Prevalence of cervical cancer Indian Scenario

According to the recent data provided by Globocan 2020 India Factsheet, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer accounting for around 18.3 per cent of all cancer cases in women and 9.3 per cent of the cancer cases in both men and women in the country. It is also estimated that one woman dies of cervical cancer every 7 minutes in India.

As per the records, over 1,23,907 new cases of cervical cancer have been registered last year with around 78,000 casualties. The mortality rate due to cervical cancer in India ranks second, accounting for 10 per cent of overall cancer related deaths. Though the average survival rate without treatment is less than 50 per cent for 5 years, timely vaccinations and regular screening can produce better outcomes and improve the quality and survival of life.

Vaccination is not only restricted to girls and women, but boys should also be administered until the age of 21 years (as per the dosage) which may prevent transmission of the virus among women. There are various types of HPV which is linked to other cancers such as throat, mouth and oral cancers. So, HPV vaccination is likely to provide protection and helps in prevention of these cancers too.

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