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Cervical cancer and HPV vaccine: Why India needs to pay attention to both

You can reduce the risk of cervical cancer ©Shutterstock

A safer way for women to get protected from an HPV infection that could lead to cervical cancer is vaccination.

Written by Debjani Arora |Published : August 1, 2018 7:02 PM IST

When it comes to cervical cancer our statistics are very scary. Going by the data provided by the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, one woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes in India. In fact, cervical cancer is the second most deadly form of cancer that leads to mortality in women after breast cancer.

Cervical cancer is the most common of all the genital tract cancers in India. India has a population of 436.76 million women aged 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer, according to the National Health Portal. The cancer develops in the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina, this opening is called the cervix. It happens when cells in the cervix grow abnormally and get out of control.

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Cervical cancer is preventable if steps are taken early to control the menace. Of the many risk factors that make one susceptible to this cancer an infection due to HPV or human papillomavirus is one of them. The other risk factors are having many sexual partners, smoking, taking birth control pills and engaging in early sexual contact. An HPV vaccination can provide protection from cervical cancer and sexually active women are advised to get one. But recent statistics say that roughly around 1.2 lakh Indian women suffer from cervical cancer annually with over 25% of the world's cervical cancer-related deaths being reported in India alone. Despite the availability of the vaccine and awareness all around there are fewer takers for this vaccine.

"If diagnosed early then it can be successfully treated, PAP smear screening and an HPV vaccine are helpful to prevent cervical cancer. The Pap test is used to detect abnormal cells in the cervix that may develop into cancer if left untreated. The doctor may apply a dilute acetic acid solution (vinegar solution) to the cervix, which causes abnormal areas to turn white. Further, a biopsy can be taken from the abnormal area," says Dr Bandita Sinha, Gynecologist & Infertility Specialist, World of Women.

HPV testing is used to look for the presence of high-risk HPV types in cervical cells. If the smear test is abnormal, a patient may be referred for a colposcopy in order for a biopsy to be taken. Also, a Pelvic examination which involves an internal examination of the vagina and adjacent organ by the gynaecologist is conducted.

How HPV vaccination can help

An HPV infection is caused when the virus is transmitted from an infected person to the other. It passed through sexual intercourse vaginal, oral or anal. In India, HPV infections amount to 70 per cent of cervical cancers in women and are one of the most dangerous and life-threatening cancers. There are around more than 150 types of HPV strains of which the two potent ones HPV-16 and HPV-18 are known to cause cervical cancer. "For women who are sexually active, getting the HPV vaccination can go a long way in protecting them from this infection and the consequence of the same," says Dr Bellarmine, medical oncologist, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai. "Those aged 26 or younger can get the HPV vaccine, which protects against types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer," says Dr Sinha.

But given the number of deaths and diagnosed patients which is increasing with every passing year seems like we need a more aggressive approach to tackle the problem. Probably something similar to how India tackled the polio menace.

Image source: Shutterstock

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