More often than not, women in their 30s are bogged down by responsibilities at the domestic and work front. Somewhere between racing against deadlines and compiling grocery lists, we often put our own wellness needs on the backburner. When we are not looking, cervical cancer sets up shop.
There’s so much we can do to prevent it. Dr Suhasini Inamdar, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Indiranagar, Bangalore says: “Practising safe sex, abstaining from smoking, maintaining genital hygiene and getting PAP and HPV screen done every once in a while are some ways to bring down cervical cancer risk.”
But are these steps enough? There is only one way to stave it off, according to Dr Inamdar, and it’s 90% effective! “Vaccine is the most effective way of preventing cervical cancer,” she states.
As we observe Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we shoot our doubts and queries at Dr Imamdar about cervical cancer and the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) Vaccine.
Q. Who is more susceptible to cervical cancer?
Though the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer can infect both men and women, the cancer is generally seen in women more than men.
Women who do not have access to regular screening are more vulnerable to the risk of Cervical Cancer.
Cervical cancer is often diagnosed in women aged between 35 to 45 years.
It is important to know that not every type of HPV virus will lead to cervical cancer. Only certain types will increase the risk, like HPV 16 and HPV 18.
Risk factors that make you susceptible to cervical cancer are having unprotected sex with multiple partners, an immune system that is weak, being infected with sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS or chlamydia and habits like smoking also increase the risk.
Q. Why should women consider getting the cervical cancer vaccine?
The vaccine is the most effective way of preventing cervical cancer. It has a success rate of 90% and is highly effective.
Cervical Cancer is the second most common type of cancer among Indian women. But it is also preventable. It is quite heartbreaking that so many women lose their lives to it in our country.
Women only tend to seek treatment only when they are affected, and cancer has advanced.
By then, it could be too late. Hence it is advisable for all eligible women to get themselves vaccinated and protect their lives from this disease.
Sadly, in India, the rate of vaccination is not that high, especially among women from lower social-economic strata. Awareness about the vaccine is essential for prevention.
Q. What age group of women are eligible for the cervical cancer vaccine?
It is advisable to get the vaccine before the person is sexually active. The vaccine can be given to girls who are 9 years old or above.
If the girls are younger than 15 years of age, two doses of the vaccine will suffice. If they are older than 15 then they would require 3 doses. The doses would be given within a period of six months.
The WHO recommends getting vaccinated ideally before the age of 26. If you are older than 26 you can still get the vaccine after consulting your doctor.
The vaccine is most effective before you are exposed to HPV, hence the earlier the better.
Q. Are there any side effects of the cervical cancer vaccine?
There are no side effects for the HPV Vaccine. This is just like any other vaccine you may take. It is completely safe and causes no serious issues.
There may be mild side effects like soreness on the jab site, slight dizziness, and some nausea. If you remain seated for about 15 minutes after getting the vaccine you should be ok.
Q: What precautions can women take to bring down cervical cancer risk?
A: If you take the following measures, cervical cancer risk can be reduced considerably.
Get yourself vaccinated. This cannot be stressed enough. The vaccine is one of the most effective ways for prevention.
Go for PAP and HPV screening. These tests enable your doctor to detect any abnormalities/ changes in the cells of the cervix. These will detect the presence of the HPV Virus.
Practise safe sex. Unprotected sex with multiple partners, increases the risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases, including cervical cancer. Always use protection during sexual intercourse.
Do not smoke. There are studies that show that tobacco and its by-products can damage the DNA of all body cells including cervical cells. This could lead to the development of cancer.
Maintain proper genital hygiene. Apart from sexual hygiene, it is important to maintain a clean vaginal area. Properly washing the area is important as it is quite delicate and vulnerable to infections.