Cervical cancer is one of the leading cancers in India. India contributes to roughly 20% of the global load of cervical cancer.Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection and is responsible for causing Cervical Cancer. HPV has many strains (types). Some are called high risk where as others are low risk.
How does a woman get Cervical Cancer?
A woman contracts HPV infection mainly by sexual intercourse. Each sexual intercourse puts her at a fresh risk of contacting HPV infection (even if it is with the same partner). Most HPV infections will disappear on their own. But sometimes, HPV stays on in the cells of the cervix (mouth of the uterus). It then begins to cause some cellular changes which develop into pre-cancer and slowly progress to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a disease with long natural pre history. Mild, moderate and severe dysplasia also called as CIN I, CIN II, CIN III are the three stages of cervical pre-cancer. The entire cycle from HPV infection to development of cervical cancer may take approximately 10 years. Though all HPV infected women do not develop cervical cancer, all women with cervical cancer are HPV infected.
How can a HPV Vaccination prevent a woman from Cervical Cancer?
HPV vaccine prevents a woman from contracting HPV vaccine, as a result of which, it prevents cervical cancer.
Ideally, girls should receive the vaccine before first sexual intercourse. That way, they can be virtually, totally prevented from getting HPV infection and hence cervical cancer. Also, HPV vaccine produces a higher immunity when given at younger ages. But for girls who haven’t received the vaccine before first sexual intercourse, it is recommended to take the HPV vaccine as soon as possible for the following important reasons:
As mentioned earlier, each intercourse puts you at a fresh risk of HPV infection. The vaccine will prevent you from contracting fresh HPV infection each time.
The HPV virus has many strains. You may be infected with one strain, but the vaccine may still prevent you from getting infected with another strain (type).
Even if you are once infected with one strain, the vaccine can prevent you from getting re-infected from the same strain.
Therefore, it is recommended that HPV vaccine should be administered to girls from 9 to 42 years of age, ideally before they start their active sexual life. If not, then at least, as early as possible.