The vaccine that protects people, especially women, from human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is usually quite expensive and therefore not accessible to the majority of the population. However, it was recently announced that thanks to a national vaccination program, all girls between the ages of 9 and 14 will receive vaccines over the next three years at their school or at nearby clinics. Currently, the quadrivalent vaccine is commercially available at a cost of $2,000 per dose. But what does this vaccine protect against?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is a major health issue for women around the world and understanding its nuances is essential for both prevention and early detection.
It usually starts in the cells lining the cervix and is primarily caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. Most HPV infections resolve on their own, but persistent infections with high-risk strains can lead to cervical cancer.
Risk factors and causes
Patients often worry about the risk factors associated with cervical cancer. HPV infection is the main cause, but other factors such as smoking, a weakened immune system, multiple sexual partners, and early sexual activity can also increase the risk.
Symptoms and treatment
Patients may worry about identifying the symptoms of cervical cancer. Early-stage cervical cancer may not present any symptoms, but as the disease progresses, symptoms such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, and pain during sexual intercourse may appear.
Early stage detection significantly improves treatment outcomes. To detect the presence of this cancer, it is necessary to undergo cervical cancer screening, specifically a Pap smear or an HPV test. These exams are essential for early detection. It is also important to encourage patients to undergo routine cervical cancer screening to nip the problem in the bud.
The HPV vaccine is a crucial preventative measure. It may protect against certain strains of the virus and significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Generally recommended for preteens and young adults, it helps in early detection and timely intervention.
Women who are concerned about fertility and how this may affect their future pregnancies can discuss fertility preservation options with their doctor. This is a conversation that should take place before they begin your treatment. Fertility preservation options include egg freezing or embryo banking.
With a population of 511.4 million women, who are aged 15 years and above and are at high risk of developing cervical cancer, the Indian government has given the green light to a new vaccine that is ingenious for the country. There are three types of HPV vaccines on the global market that protect against HPV types 16 and 18, the most common viruses that cause cervical cancer.
The Serum Institute is working on Cervavac, which is India’s first indigenous HPV vaccine. It was launched in January 2023 and targets the same four types of HPV as Gardasil (another vaccine currently available on the market).