Cancer is perhaps the most deadly and most terrible of all diseases. Not only is does it drain the victim and their family emotionally and physically, but also puts a heavy strain on their purse. Sadly, this disease has become so widespread; it is not uncommon to hear of a child having cancer!! Every day, some new type of a tumour is discovered which sends the entire medical community into a spiral to figure out new ways of trying to beat it.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers. However, the good news is it is one of the most preventable cancers also. And just like any other cancer, it is not one to be taken lightly. Cervical cancer is caused due to abnormal cell growth in the cervix. It is most prevalent in women under 40 years of age.
Although cervical cancer can be easily identified with a Pap test, the early stages usually don’t have any obvious symptoms. However, in case of advanced cervical cancer, various symptoms may be found like loss of appetite, pain the pelvic area, abnormal vaginal bleeding, fatigue, etc.
HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer. Of course, not all HPV viruses cause cervical cancer, but it is certainly a high-risk factor. Did you know that just two HPV viruses, HPV 16 and HPV 18 are responsible for almost 70% of cervical cancer cases? And HPV viruses are so common (they are a group of 200 related viruses!) that anyone who is/was sexually active can get it.
Besides HPV, smoking, STD’s, being overweight, HIV, etc, also put you in the high-risk zone for cervical cancer.
But amidst all the dark clouds, there is a silver lining! Due to the leaps made by science, scientists have discovered an HPV vaccine to tackle the most common cause of cervical cancer. The vaccines not only provide protection from the targeted virus groups but also provide partial protection from new viruses that may cause cancer. But it is important to highlight here that these vaccines do not provide protection from other STDs nor do they treat any existing HPV infections. This is why even vaccinated women should go for a cervical cancer test every few months.
HPV vaccine is recommended for women till age 26 and for men till age 21. Doctors stop recommending the vaccine after the person reaches their mid-twenties as the chances of their already being exposed to the virus is high. Though men can’t get cervical cancer, it is recommended for them to get vaccinated to prevent passing on the virus to their partners.
HPV vaccines are almost 100% effective against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 if it is received on time and before the person is exposed to the virus. Although serious allergic reactions or side effects of the vaccine are rare, mild reactions like a headache, tiredness, etc are quite common and go away after two days.
Delhi has become the first state in our country to try and combat the issue of cervical cancer by launching HPV vaccines as a health programme in government schools. Under this, girls aged between the age of 11-13 will be vaccinated free of cost at the Delhi State Cancer Institute. The girls will be vaccinated twice in an interval of six-twelve months. The HPV vaccine has already become a part of the regular vaccination programme in over 70 countries like Malaysia, Bhutan, Nepal, etc.
Every day people are becoming more aware of the HPV vaccines and its benefits against cancer. This vaccine is a huge leap forward in our fight against cancer. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll be able to develop something that is just as effective and safe for the people who have already been exposed to the virus. Everyone deserves to have a healthy and disease free life and with the recent developments in science, we are surely one step closer to the goal.