HPV Vaccine: Everything About Cervical Cancer Prevention Answered By Expert
January is cervical cancer awareness month, and the only prevention method that exists in the world is the HPV vaccine. Millions of women in India suffer from cervical cancer.
The main cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), which can get transmitted into the body via sexual activity. It has several variants much like any other virus that can develop into cancer. Recently, tennis legend Martina Navratilova revealed to Tweak India that she was battling breast and throat cancers that were related to HPV.
The vaccine creates a shield against the variants and prevents the disease from developing. We spoke to Dr Kanika Batra Modi, Senior Consultant - Gynaecologic Oncology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, to get all your questions answered.
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How Does HPV Vaccine Work?
The HPV vaccine works by stimulating the body's immune system to recognise and fight off the virus. It creates a barrier against the virus much like how COVID-19 vaccines are working.
After completing all the doses of the vaccine, the body is able to produce an immune response, recognise the virus and fight it.
Since it is the only existing means to prevent cancer, we suggest every girl and woman must take it.
What Are The Different Options Of HPV Available In India?
Currently, there are two types of HPV vaccines available: Gardasil 9 and Cervarix. Gardasil 9 is a 9-valent vaccine that targets nine different types of HPV, including 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 types of HPV.
These variants are known to be responsible for the majority of cervical cancer cases as well as many cases of vaginal, vulvar, anal and oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. They can also lead to genital warts (a small bump on the genitals).
Cervarix is a 2-valent vaccine that targets 16 and 18 of the HPV. They are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.
What Is The Course Of HPV Vaccines?
Gardasil 9 and Cervarix are given as a series of shots. The recommended schedule for Gardasil 9 is two shots given six to twelve months apart for adolescents, but for those with a weaker immune system or already exposed to HPV, three doses may be given. For Cervarix, three doses are given over six months.
It is important to note that while the HPV vaccine is highly effective, it does not provide a 100% protection against all types of HPV. Therefore, regular pap screenings and cervical cancer check-ups are recommended by Dr Modi. It can help detect any abnormal cervical cells that the vaccine may have missed or any abnormal cervical cells that developed after being vaccinated.
Recently, India has got its very own homegrown HPV vaccine which would be made available in primary schools for girls between the age of nine and 14. More information is yet to come about the vaccine.
What Are The Types Of Cancers That HPV Vaccine Prevents?
There are hundreds of variants of HPV. The vaccine offers prevention against most cancers caused by the virus. This includes cervical cancer, vaginal, vulvar, anal and oropharyngeal cancer as well as genital warts caused by these types of HPV.
Can Men Take HPV Vaccine?
Yes, men can take the HPV vaccine. In fact, the HPV vaccine is recommended for men, women and people of other genders. The HPV vaccine is most effective when given before an individual becomes sexually active, but it can still provide some protection even if given later on.
The vaccine can protect men from several types of cancers like anal cancer, penile cancer and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils) as well as genital warts.
Men who have sex with other men or have a compromised immune system are at higher risk of developing anal cancer.
The schedule for the HPV vaccine for men is the same as for women. It is important to note that the HPV vaccine is not 100% effective, and therefore, men must ensure regular cancer screenings, such as anal and penile cancer screenings. You still have to consult a doctor in case of infection-related issues.
What Is The Right Age To Get An HPV Vaccine?
The schedule for the HPV vaccine depends on the type of vaccine being used.
For the Gardasil 9 vaccine:
For individuals ages nine to 14: Two doses are given six to twelve months apart.
For individuals ages 15 to 45: A three-dose series given at zero, two, and six months, if not completed in their teens.
For the Cervarix vaccine,
For individuals ages 10 to 25: a three-dose series given at zero, one and six months
It is important to receive all doses of the HPV vaccine as scheduled in order for it to be most effective.
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What Health Conditions Are a Deterrent in Getting the Vaccine
While the HPV vaccine is generally safe and effective, there are certain reasons why some people may not be advised to receive it.
Individuals with a history of an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, such as yeast, could be a reason.
Pregnant women as well as people with a weak immune system due to certain illnesses, such as cancer, or due to taking certain medications, such as immuno-suppressive drugs.
If someone has a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder that affects the nervous system, and it occurs within six weeks after a previous dose of tetanus-containing vaccine or in close
Temporal association with another vaccination or an infection
People who have already been infected with one or more types of HPV targeted by the vaccine
Dr Modi suggests people disclose specific health ailments to their healthcare provider before taking the HPV vaccine. It helps the doctor identify which vaccine would be suitable for them.
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What Could Be the Possible Side-Effects of the Vaccine (Hormonal or Otherwise)
Like most vaccines, the HPV vaccine can have some side effects, but these are generally mild and short-lived.
Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
Lesser common side effects of the HPV vaccine include:
Allergic reactions; although these are very rare. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Fainting, which can occur after receiving any injection. If you feel faint or lightheaded after receiving the HPV vaccine, sit or lie down for a few minutes.
As for hormonal side effects, there is no credible evidence that the HPV vaccine causes a hormonal imbalance or any changes in the hormonal level, but if you have any concerns or experience any unusual symptoms after receiving the vaccine, it's always best to consult your healthcare provider.
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