Human papillomavirus or HPV causes several types of cancers and infections among both men and women, and among them, the most common one is cervical cancer. In fact, it is the second most common cancer in India (even though the focus is always on breast cancer when it comes to women). What’s important to know is that cervical cancer can be prevented by simply taking the specially designed HPV vaccine.
In conversation with Dr Bharathi Ramesh, Senior Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Bangalore, we understand all there is to know about this lifesaving vaccine and why it’s so important for women.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cervix or the opening of the uterus. It also affects the lowermost part of the uterus (womb) and cells. The cells of the cervix develop abnormal changes and are called pre-cancerous cells. If these pre-cancerous cells are detected before they turn invasive, early treatment can help cure the individual.
Who Can Get Cervical Cancer?
Individuals who get exposed to HPV are prone to develop cervical cancer. This can happen when an individual has unprotected sex with an infected partner. Other risk factors of this type of cancer are:
- Having sex with multiple partners
- Weak immune system due to an underlying health condition
- Having other STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhoea
- Lack of proper genital hygiene
5 Things You Need To Know About The HPV Vaccine To Prevent Cervical Cancer
1. It can protect you from HPV.
Instead of compromising on the quality of life with the physiological and psychological effects of the treatment of cancer, you can prevent the condition in the first place. Protecting yourself from getting infected with HPV is the only way to prevent cervical cancer, along with other types of reproductive and oral cancers. The HPV vaccine prevents the spread of various strains of the virus through sexual contact. Many people infected with HPV are not aware due to a lack of signs and symptoms.
2. Both girls & boys can take the vaccine.
Girls can take the shot at an early age before they are exposed to the infection. Early immunisation against the virus can help them in the long run. Not only girls but boys should also take the vaccine to decrease the transmission of infection to others.
3. Your pre-teen can receive the vaccination shot.
Pre-teens can receive the vaccination shots, starting from an early age of 9. Teens and young adults between 15-26 years of age will have to take three shots of the vaccine, instead of two. People aged above 27 years will have to consult the doctor before taking the vaccine since they might have already been exposed to the virus, which reduces the benefits of the vaccine.
4. The vaccine has a few mild side effects you may experience after taking the shot.
Some of the side-effects of the HPV vaccine include:
- Itching and pain on the area where the shot was received
5. There are other precautionary measures to prevent cervical cancer.
While the vaccine is a great way to prevent cervical cancer, here are some other things you can do:
- Regular PAP tests and HPV Screening
- Always practice safe sex with protection
- Quit smoking
- Maintain proper genital hygiene (bathe regularly and wash any toys or intimate objects you may use in the area–before and after use)
Can Cervical Cancer Be Treated?
The treatment of cervical cancer depends on the severity and stage of the disease. In severe cases, chemotherapy can help treat cancer. High-energy rays or radiation therapy can also help kill cancer. If the cancerous cells are on the surface of the cervical opening, the doctor can remove or destroy the cells through a conization procedure. In case, cancer spreads to the uterus, your doctor might suggest a hysterectomy. Precancerous lesions or low-grade lesions do not need any treatment, especially if the doctor has taken out the area for biopsy.
Awareness Is Key
Be honest, were you even aware of the HPV vaccine? Most people who read this article have probably not taken the shot, despite the fact that cervical cancer has claimed the lives of several women around the world. The most effective way of prevention is awareness. We need to educate everyone about the disease and about the vaccination, especially women. With rigorous vaccination drives and regular access to screening facilities, this disease can be eradicated, and numerous lives can be saved.