HPV Vaccines to Prevent Cervical Cancer: All You Need to Know

HPV Vaccines to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a disease that affects the lives of thousands of women worldwide. It is a type of cancer that originates in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The cancer starts in the surface cells of the cervix and can spread to the deeper tissue and other parts of the body if left untreated. This is a serious disease that requires early detection and treatment to ensure the best possible outcome.

Cervical cancer is mostly associated with human papillomavirus (HPV), an infection that can be transmitted sexually via vaginal or oral or anal exposure and also through the skin to skin contact. Cervical cancer is increasing worldwide and can be reduced just by administering the HPV vaccine.

In India, the peak age of cervical cancer incidents is 55-59 years. Current data from the National Cancer Registry Program (NCRP) indicates that the most common sites of cancer among women are breasts and the cervix

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine helps protect against certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). It works by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that can fight off HPV infections. The HPV vaccine is directed towards the prevention of cervical cancer, and hence the cervical cancer vaccine should be administered at the age of 9-45 years, preferably before the sexual encounter.

Three HPV vaccines available globally

Bivalent, quadrivalent and 9-valent.

  • The bivalent HPV vaccine is given to girls and young women from 9 to 45 yrs to prevent cervical cancer, caused by HPV strains 16 and 18. The vaccine can be administered even if the patient is tested positive for HPV or had an abnormal pap smear in the past.
  • The quadrivalent HPV Vaccine protects against an infection caused by the HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. 16 & 18 strains are responsible for 70-80 % of cervical cancers and 6 & 11 are responsible for at least 90% of genital warts. The vaccine can be administered even if the patient is tested positive for an HPV test or had an abnormal pap smear in the past. Vaccine demonstrates 98-100% protection against cervical cancer, vulvar vaginal cancer and genital warts. Also, vaccines can be given immediately after the delivery at the time of discharge or at the time of first follow up.
  • HPV 9-valent vaccine is used for girls and young women from ages 9 to 26 yrs to prevent cervical/vaginal/vulvar cancers anal cancers and genital warts caused by 9 types of HPV strains. HPV 9-valent vaccine is administered even in boys to prevent penile cancers.

 Dosage Schedule for HPV

  • HPV vaccine should be given between 9-45 years of age, preferably before sexual experiences.
  • In the age of 9-14 yrs, 2 doses with a gap of 6 months. (0 and 6 months)
  • At the age of 15-45 yrs, 3 doses are to be given in the interval of 0,2 and 6 months.
  • HPV Vaccine can be given as a postpartum vaccine in the interval of 0,1 and 4 months.

Factors that can increase the risk for contracting the HPV virus

Although HPV is preventable with vaccination, there are certain factors that can increase the risk of contracting the virus in individuals who have not been vaccinated.

  • Having unprotected sex: The most common mode of transmission of HPV is through sexual contact with an infected partner. Engaging in unprotected sex, or sex without a barrier method such as a condom, can increase the risk of contracting the virus.
  • Multiple sexual partners: Having multiple sexual partners can increase the risk of contracting HPV, as it increases the likelihood of coming into contact with an infected partner.
  • Contact with contagious wounds: HPV can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area, such as a genital wart or lesion. Having contact with contagious wounds can increase the risk of contracting the virus.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco: Smoking or chewing tobacco can cause cellular changes in the cervix, which can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Immunocompromised: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy, are at increased risk of contracting HPV and developing related complications.
  • Having multiple full-term pregnancies: Women who have had multiple full-term pregnancies may be at increased risk of developing HPV-related cervical abnormalities.
  • Regular intake of unhealthy food: A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables can weaken the immune system, making it easier for the virus to take hold in the body.
  • Usage of contraceptives for long term: Long-term use of oral contraceptives has been associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer, although the reasons for this are not well understood.
  • Family history of cervical cancer: Women with a family history of cervical cancer may be at increased risk of developing the disease themselves.

The risk of cervical cancer can be minimised with regular screening and vaccination. The chances for a better outcome of cervical cancer is early detection and timely treatment.

Lastly, HPV vaccines are more than just a preventive measure for cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases. They are an investment in your health and well-being, as well as that of your loved ones. By getting vaccinated early, individuals can take a proactive step towards protecting themselves and their partners from the risks associated with HPV infection. It is also advised to keep up with regular screenings even after vaccination. By taking care of your health and making informed decisions, you can help reduce the incidence of cervical cancer and contribute to a healthier future.

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