Human papillomavirus or HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that causes several types of cancer, including cervical cancer. In India, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women. Many measures have been made to aware people of its prevention and treatment. The HPV vaccine has played an important role in reducing the number of people affected by cervical cancer.
Here are 5 things that were told by Dr. Nagaveni. R, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospitals, HRBR Layout, Bangalore that you must know about the HPV vaccine.
It Can Prevent The Spread Of HPV
Several strains of HPV can spread through sexual contact, unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners. In most cases, the virus causes cervical cancer. Many people are not yet aware whether they have been infected or not, as signs and symptoms of the infection may appear after years in the form of several types of cancers, including anal, oral, vaginal and genital warts.
If the vaccine is given to girls and women who have not yet been exposed to the virus or are not sexually active, it can protect them against cervical cancer. Not only girls, but it can also prevent anal cancers, genital warts, etc, among men. If boys receive the vaccination, it can also reduce the spread of the virus among girls by decreasing transmission.
The HPV Vaccine Can Be Given To Pre-Teens
Girls and boys can receive the vaccine as soon as they turn 9. Pre-teens should get vaccinated against cervical cancer long before they are exposed to the virus causing it. Apart from younger adolescents, teens and young adults can also receive the vaccine between the ages of 15-26 years. People aged above 27 can consult their doctors before getting vaccinated. This is because by this time, a lot of people might have already been exposed to the virus, reducing the benefits of the vaccine.
Even if you have been exposed to the virus, you should still get vaccinated against HPV to prevent other strains from affecting you. You should note that the vaccine can only prevent HPV and not treat it.
There Are A Few Exceptions
HPV vaccine should not be given to pregnant women or people who have a moderate or severe illness. You must tell your doctor if you are allergic to yeast or latex or any other components of the vaccine. Also, if you had a severe allergic reaction after taking the previous dose, you should avoid taking the next one.
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The Vaccine Can Have A Few Side Effects
Like all other vaccines, the HPV vaccine has a few side effects too. Some of the common side effects of the HPV vaccine include:
- Redness and swelling on the area where the shot was given
- Headache and fatigue
In some cases, people might also faint after taking the shot. This is especially common among adolescents. To prevent them from falling and hurting themselves, they should be seated for 15-20 minutes after receiving the vaccine. Apart from these mild symptoms, people suffer from severe allergic reactions.
Screening Tests Are Important Even After Taking The Vaccine
It is important to note that you should not stop going for screening tests (Pap smear for diagnosing cervical cancer) after taking the HPV vaccine. This is because the vaccine cannot protect people from all strains of HPV, causing cervical cancer. Therefore, women aged over 21 years must go for a Pap test every 3 years as early diagnosis of abnormal or pre-cancerous cells in the cervix prevents cancer from turning invasive. Also, women aged over 30 years should take the HPV test along with Pap smear.
Dr. Nagaveni. R says, “You can take some other steps to prevent cervical cancer. Smoking is a known cause of cervical cancer and it increases the risk of contracting it. Make sure you use a condom during sex to avoid transmission of STIs. Avoid having sex with multiple partners to decrease the risk of transmission of the infection. We can win this fight against cervical cancer only if precautions are taken to reduce the transmission, and more young people get vaccinated against it.”
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