Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Q & A with Dr. Rani Bhat
Vaccine for Cancer Prevention
Human Papillomavirus Vaccine
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women in India and commonly seen in young women. Most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Based on Indian studies 82.7% of cervical cancers were caused by the HPV virus (mainly caused by strains 16 &18). With HPV vaccine immunization the impact of cervical cancer can be reduced. Here’s what you need to know about the human papillomavirus vaccine.
1. How does this HPV vaccine work?
Dictionary meaning of vaccine – “a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases, prepared from the causative agent of a disease, treated to act without inducing the disease”. Similarly, the HPV vaccine will stimulate your body to produce antibodies that will prevent further HPV infection.
Note: This HPV vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections or HPV-caused disease nor do they prevent other sexually transmitted diseases.
2. How effective are HPV vaccines in preventing cancer?
They are highly effective in preventing HPV infection. These vaccines are more effective in preventing cervical cancers if given before a girl or woman is exposed to the virus (which means before being sexually active). This vaccine has also been shown to be effective in preventing other cancers such as vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, and also prevent genital warts and anal cancer in women and men. Studies have shown that both vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) were found to provide nearly 100% protection against persistent cervical infections with HPV types 16 and 18.
To date, protection against the HPV virus has been found to last for at least 9-10 years. Studies are still in progress to understand the total duration of protection.
Consult your doctor on regular basis to check if you need any booster dose.
3. Why is it important for women to get HPV vaccination?
The combination of HPV vaccination and cervical screening can give you the greatest protection against cervical cancer. It has been noted that widespread HPV vaccination has the potential to reduce cervical cancer incidence around the world by as much as 90%. Hence, it is very important for you to take this vaccination.
4. How safe are the HPV vaccinations?
Many studies have been done on HPV vaccines and they have been tested in tens of thousands of people in the United States and many other countries. So far, no serious side effects have been shown to be caused by the vaccines. The most common problems some may have brief soreness and redness at the injection site. These side effects are similar to those commonly experienced with other vaccine injections. The vaccines have not been sufficiently studied during pregnancy and its effects on mother and baby, therefore, should not be used by pregnant women.
5. When should children and women get vaccinated?
Age Group No of Doses Routine Schedule Minimum Intervals From age: 9 to 14 years 21st dose: 0 (the day you have taken the 1st injection) 2nd dose: 6 to 12 months from the first dose5 months between the two doses From 15 to 26 years31St dose: 0 (the day you have taken the 1st injection). 2nd dose: 1 to 2 months from the first dose. 3rd dose: 6 months from the 2nd dose.4 weeks between doses 1-2 12 weeks between doses 2-3 5 months between doses 1-3
6. Who should not get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine isn’t recommended for pregnant women and people who are moderately or severely ill. You need to inform your doctor if you have any severe allergies, including an allergy to yeast or latex. Very importantly mention to your doctor if you’ve had any severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine, if so then you shouldn’t get the vaccine.
7. Does the HPV vaccine has any benefits if you’re already sexually active?
Yes, it does have benefits. Even if you have already acquired one strain of HPV, you could still benefit from the vaccine because it can protect you from other strains that you don’t yet have. However, it's important to remember that none of the vaccines can treat an existing HPV infection which you already have. The vaccines protect you only from new strains of HPV to which you haven’t been exposed already.
8. Do women who’ve received the HPV vaccine still need to have Pap smear tests?
Yes. The HPV vaccine will not replace Pap smear tests. Routine screening for cervical cancer through regular Pap tests should still begin at age 21 and thus remains an essential part of a woman’s preventive health care.