January is marked as cervical cancer awareness month but Bollywood actor and model Poonam Pandey‘s death hoax has once again brought the deadly disease into spotlight where beneath the surface lies a significant contributor to this disease – Human Papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, that is responsible for over 95% of the cases of cervical cancer (the second cause of death from cancer in females in India). It is crucial to understand the role of the cervix in female reproductive anatomy and the uniqueness of cervical cancer due to its detectability through regular screening methods.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Dharma Kumar KG, Consultant – Surgical Oncology at Manipal Hospital, shared, “Cervical health matters significantly as early detection is possible through regular screening, a feature distinct from cervical cancer. Unlike other cancers lacking preventive vaccines, cervical cancer benefits from a vaccine, contributing significantly to women’s healthcare, particularly in addressing persistent HPV infections.”
According to him, the important aspects of awareness and prevention of cervical cancer are –
- Spreading awareness about the risk factors that include:
– Females indulging in sexual intercourse very early in their life, those who have multiple sexual partners, or intercourse with a partner with HPV infection.
– Females with compromised immunity, smoking habits, and those on oral contraceptive
- Early identification of cervical cancer symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention
– The early symptoms are postcoital bleeding, irregular periods, bleeding between the periods, abnormal discharge, and lower back pain.
- Regular screening program, starting with pap smears at 21 for sexually active women every three years, transitioning to HPV DNA testing after 30 for a comprehensive screening process.
- Vaccination administration as per standard recommendations. It is best to administer vaccination at an early age (between 9 to 13 years) or before commencing sexual activity. Two or three timely vaccination doses are crucial for optimal cancer prevention.
He asserted, “Women should prioritise cervical health by understanding risks, recognising warning signs and actively participating in screenings and vaccinations.” Bringing his expertise to the same, Dr Ashish Gupta’, Chief Oncologist from Unique Hospital Cancer Centre in Delhi, elaborated –
- HPV: Human Papillomavirus is a common sexually transmitted infection, encompasses a number of different subtypes. While most infections are harmless and resolve on their own, some strains can lead to various cancers, including cervical cancer.
- Transmission and Risk Factors: HPV spreads primarily through sexual contact. Risk factors such as poor vaginal hygiene, immunocompromised status and multiple sexual partners face an elevated risk.
- Common Symptoms: Most HPV infections are asymptomatic, making it difficult to detect. However, visible genital warts may be there in some cases. Regular medical check-ups and screenings play an important role in early identification.
- Health Implications: While most HPV infections clear on their own, persistent infections can lead to various cancers, not limited to cervical cancer. Other cancers include head and neck cancers, penile cancer, vulvar and vaginal cancers. Awareness and early intervention are paramount in preventing the progression of HPV-related diseases.
- Prevention and Early Detection: Prevent the HPV infection via the HPV vaccine. This vaccine is a powerful tool, providing protection against high-risk virus subtypes. Vaccination is recommended for both males and females, ideally before any sexual activity begins. We can also detect the high-risk cervical cancer causing strains of HPV virus via HPV DNA testing.
- HPV Vaccination- Shield against Cervical Cancer: HPV vaccine is given between the ages of 9-14, can be given upto the age of 26. It is given in 2 or 3 doses depending on the age. The vaccine is safe, effective, and a proactive step towards preventing HPV-related cancers. It is given to both males and females. Timely vaccination emerges as a powerful tool in preventing both HPV infection and its potential progression to cervical cancer. As of 2023, it is now being made in India, available from Serum Institute of India, Pune.
- Together, We Can Cancel Cancer: We need to work together to cancel cervical cancer by knowing about the HPV virus. By embracing awareness, early detection and vaccination, we can contribute to a healthier future, devoid of cervical cancer.