A vaccine that can prevent cancer sounds like a distant dream, but it is true. The HPV vaccine is available widely, which can prevent your children from many future cancers. This article is to create awareness regarding this vaccine.
HPV (Human papillomavirus) vaccines have been widely available for over a decade. But, very few people have heard about the vaccine, and a few have gotten vaccinated. This is the first and only vaccine available against cancer.
There are more than 200 viruses in the human papillomavirus group. Of which one-fifth spread through sexual contact. Human papillomaviruses are not only associated with genital warts but also cause a wide range of cancers. In particular, this virus causes 70% of cervical cancers and is also responsible for a significant proportion of anal, penile, vulval, vaginal, and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV virus is acquired sexually during adulthood. The persistence of this virus for decades leads to malignancy. HPV vaccine prevents human papillomavirus.
The following are the different types of viruses:
HPV 6 and 11 - These are the most common causes of genital warts.
HPV 16 and 18 - These are high-risk HPVs responsible for the incidence of cancers. Around 70% of cervical cancers are caused by these two virus subtypes.
HPV 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 - These are also high-risk groups contributing to about 10 to 20% of all cervical cancers.
HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer:
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in females, the most common being breast cancer. It causes a significant amount of morbidity and mortality. Around 70% of cervical cancer can be prevented by this vaccine alone.
HPV Vaccine in Preventing Genital Warts:
Genital warts are sexually transmitted. HPV also causes warts. The quadrivalent vaccine, Gardasil, can also prevent 90% of genital warts.
There are three vaccines available, Gardasil, Cervarix, and Gardasil 9. These are given intramuscularly, preferably to children aged 11 to 13 years, but can also be given at a later age.
Depending on when the HPV vaccine is administered, there are different dosing schedules.
When the HPV vaccine is given before the age of 15, two doses are sufficient to confer the needed protection. The two doses of the vaccine should be taken with a gap of at least six months.
In individuals who get the HPV vaccine after 15, three doses are required. It is administered in such a way that after the initial dose, the second dose is given after two months and the last dose after six months of the first dose.
Although it is advisable to get the vaccine before 12 years of age, almost every individual can take it until they turn 26.
In individuals between the ages of 27 and 45, there are specific cautions. However, the benefits concurred are less as compared to the earlier age group. It is advisable to get the vaccine only after discussing it with the physician.
Since Human papillomavirus spreads through sexual contact, it is recommended to use barrier contraceptives like condoms when involved in intercourse. Also, smoking should be avoided as it is a significant risk factor for cervical cancer. In addition to this, periodical screening for cervical cancer should be done with the help of a Pap test.
The vaccine has minimal side effects such as pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site and fainting; however, it is not always seen. To avoid other risks, it is always advisable to stay seated in one place for at least 15 minutes after getting an HPV vaccine.
In a few, nausea, weakness, and vomiting may be seen.
Gardasil 9 is an HPV vaccine that has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for use in both boys and girls. In women, it prevents cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Also, cancers of the head and neck, mouth, and throat, and genital warts can be controlled in both males and females when taken.
The vaccine should be given, preferably before the sexual debut, as the virus is transmitted sexually. The vaccine is not very efficacious when taken after acquiring an infection. That is why 11 to 13 years is the best age group. It can also be given at a very early stage, say at around nine years.
It is needed to get the HPV vaccine even after you become sexually active. The reason is, even after getting exposed to an HPV strain, the vaccine can offer protection against the other strains of HPV. But, a vaccine can never treat an already existing infection.
Although no reports have implicated that the HPV vaccine can have harmful effects on the developing fetus, it is always advisable to get the vaccine after the gestation period or before conceiving.
The Pap test is used to detect the presence of any cancerous or precancerous lesions present in the cervix or colon. It is an integral part of the cervical cancer screening process. It is generally recommended to start screening tests at the age of 21. In women between the ages of 21 to 29, Pap tests should be taken every three years. Women within the age of 30 and 65 years can do a Pap test and HPV test altogether every five years, HPV test alone every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years. However, these guidelines do not fit women who are immunocompromised, have an HIV infection, or have a personal or family history of cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines do not serve as an alternative for screening tests. Even after taking the HPV vaccine, it is mandatory to continue with the normal screening process as per the recommendations.
Although HPV vaccines do not offer complete protection against cervical cancer and other cancers, administering it can help in reducing the incidence. It is advisable to vaccinate the children with HPV vaccines at around 12 years or at least before sexual activity. In addition, screening gives a helping hand in the early detection of cancerous lesions, if any. Therefore, do get the HPV vaccines and screen yourself for cervical cancer with the help of a health care provider and prevent the risk of developing cervical cancer.
Last reviewed at:
04 Feb 2022 - 4 min read
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