Vaccination for cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is ranked as the most frequent cancer in women in India. It is also the fifth most common cancer in humans worldwide and the most common cancer cause of death in the developing countries.

The worldwide incidence of cervical cancer is approximately 510,000 new cases annually, with approximately 288,000 deaths worldwide. Unlike many other cancers, cervical cancer occurs early and strikes at the productive period of a woman's life. The incidence rises in 30–34 years of age and peaks at 55–65 years, with a median age of 38 years (age 21–67 years).

Estimates suggest that more than 80 per cent of the sexually active women acquire genital Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection by 50 years of age. Hence, the advent of a vaccine against HPV has stirred much excitement as well as debate.

“Since 2006, we have had two vaccines available in India that fight the deadly disease. Both vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, tackle HPV types 16 and 18. Gardasil also tackles two other strains of the virus, which are linked to genital warts,” said
Dr Nupur Gupta, Consultant Gynaecologist, Well Woman Clinic.

“The vaccines are licensed for girls and women aged between nine years and 45 years and both are given as a course of three shots, over a six months’ time frame,” added Dr Gupta.

Photo Courtesy: The Truth About Cancer

Following are the things to know about the vaccination:

  • The vaccinations have been developed for protection against the high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 and thereby reducing the chance of developing cervical cancer.
  • Best age for vaccination is adolescence as it gives the best immune response, otherwise till 45 years of age.
  • The vaccine is given intramuscularly in the upper arm on a schedule of 0, 1, and 6 months of interval.
  • It is not yet known that the protection would last lifelong but immunity is longer than after a natural infection
  • Injection site pain or inflammation may be there for a short while but does not last long.
  • Screening is still important as women who are vaccinated are not protected against all HPV types.
  • The majority of HPV infections are asymptomatic and gets cleared in our immune system within a few months. However, a persistent infection leads to precancerous changes in the cervix. The period of progression to cervical cancer might take many years which can be picked up during regular screening.