Sometimes, the best prevention is early screening. Bringing the culture of prevention and regular screening into our life is ever so essential. And when it comes to cancer of the Cervix, getting Indian women to stick to this advice is probably best.
India bears nearly a fourth of the world's cervical cancer burden, and also contributes to over one fourth of the global deaths due to this condition. And, all of them are preventable. According to statistics, India has a population of 366.58 million women aged 15 years and above who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cancer of the cervix is caused by a virus – the Human Papilloma Virus, explains Elizabeth Stanley, director of research, department of pathology, University of Cambridge. She underlines the importance of both screening and vaccination as a double-barrel protection against infection.
“Most people think HPV affects only the cervix, but five per cent of all cancers in men and women are associated with two strains of HPV. About 85 - 90 per cent of anal cancers, even 60-70 per cent of cancers of the tonsils are caused by the HPV. The virus for sure causes more than one sort of cancer,” Prof. Stanley says.
Effective protection will be provided against the virus by vaccines available in the market, currently manufactured by two pharma companies.
Indeed it is as simple as that. “But how many women in India go to a gynaecologist if they do not have any problems. I have had women boast to me that the last time they saw a gynaecologist was when they were pregnant,” explains Usha Reddy, consultant gynaecologist, Vijaya Health Centre. Having regular check ups with the doctor to rule out breast and cervical anomalies is essential for women as they approach middle age.
Most women ignore the symptoms – white discharge, sometimes with blood, irritation in the vaginal area, and pain in the lower abdomen, she adds. It is her recommendation that the vaccine, available in three doses, be administered to teenaged girls to afford them protection. While the vaccine is most effective before exposure to the virus, even women who have been infected can take the vaccine to prevent malignancies in cases of repeat infections.
Though HPV vaccine trials in India have evoked controversy, the two experts claimed that the vaccine was safe. Prof. Stanley says, “No serious adverse events have been associated with the vaccine, as it is only a protein grown on yeast, a virus-like particle, not the virus itself.”