January was cervical cancer awareness month; it was a great time to talk about how human papillomavirus vaccines could help prevent cancer. Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States of America and the second most common cancer in women under 44 worldwide.
Thanks to cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination, it is the most preventable of all female cancers. About 79 million people, most in their late teens and early 20s, are currently infected with HPV, and an additional 14 million are estimated to be infected each year–a compelling reason to protect preteens and teens early through vaccination.
Well organised screening programmes have been proven to reduce incidence of cervical cancer by 80 per cent and the HPV vaccine has been proven almost 100 per cent effective in preventing certain types of the virus that cause 70 per cent of all cervical cancer cases.
Each year, 500,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed globally and more than 250,000 women die from the disease. 99 per cent of cervical cancer cases are caused by persistent infection of certain high risk types of the Human Papillomavirus. Cervical cancer causes few symptoms in the early stages. In fact, it can take years for HPV symptoms to develop or the virus to be detected. However, in its advanced stages it can cause:Abnormal bleeding; Pelvic pain not related to a menstrual cycle; Heavy discharge; Increased urinary frequency; Pain while urinating
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world and approximately 50 per cent to 80 per cent of sexually active women contract some form of HPV at least once in their life. Only a small proportion will develop cervical cancer.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. With more than 100 types of HPV, nearly all sexually active men and women will contract at least one type at some point in their lives. But an HPV infection does not necessarily mean cancer will develop. About 90 per cent of HPV infections clear up by themselves. Only those that persist will cause serious health problems, including cancer.
The vaccine protects against the human papillomavirus. If this virus stays in the body for a long time, it can cause some types of cancer. The HPV vaccines prevent: cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers, Anal cancerGenital warts.
HPV Vaccination Schedule
The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
- HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given starting at age 9.
- HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.
- HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV.
- The HPV vaccine is also strongly recommended for boys. It can help protect them from infection with the most common types of HPV that can cause cancer when they get older. It protects boys from conditionslike genital warts, penile cancers and other HPV related infections.
- Most HPV infection goes away without any health problems. However, there is no way to know when it won’t and an infection could lead to cancer. Vaccinating your child against HPV helps protect them.
If vaccination is started before age 15, a two-dose schedule is recommended, with the doses given 6 to 12 months apart. For people who start the series after their 15th birthday, the vaccine is given in a series of three shots.
The vaccine is readily available but due to the cost implication, it’s still out of reach of many of the populace.
HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections, but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV. One should get screened for cervical cancer regularly, even if the person has received an HPV vaccine.
Other ways to prevent HPV and Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer can also be prevented or found early through regular screening and follow-up treatment. The pap test looks for precancers (cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately).The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
The followingfactors may also help lower risk for cervical cancer: avoiding smoking; using condoms during sex; limiting number of sexual partners.
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