A cervical cancer free India!

-Dr. Aarthi. S. Jayraj, Consultant Gynec-Oncologist at Womens Center by Motherhood

If there was a vaccine that could eliminate a cancer, would you take it? Hold on to that thought before answering.

Dr. Aarthi. S. Jayraj, Consultant Gynec-Oncologist at Womens Center by Motherhood says that cervical cancer is preventable just by getting a few vaccination jabs. Cervix is the neck of the womb or the uterus.

“In 2020, 604,127 women were diagnosed with this deadly disease worldwide. Out of this, India contributed to 123,907 cases”, she says citing the Global Cancer Observatory. Simply put, for every 5 women diagnosed in the world, one would be an Indian. Every 8 minutes, a woman in India dies of this disease!

What is the cause of this disease?

A virus called Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of this cancer. “HPV is extremely common- so common that it has been dubbed ‘the common cold of STDs’. Approximately, 9 in 10 married couples will be infected in their lifetime. Furthermore, the infection might be without symptoms and has no established medical cure. Fortunately, most women clear this infection on their own. Almost 10% harbour the infection unknowingly for years together and may develop cancer later”, according to Dr. Aarthi. “Vaccination ensures you never get infected, in the first place!”

How effective is this HPV vaccine?

The vaccine protects against four or nine serotypes of HPV infection, depending on the type of vaccine. In parts of the world, like England and Australia, who introduced this vaccine for their kids since 2007, the cervical cancer rates have fallen to less than 1 per million women. The vaccine shows almost 99% efficacy against the HPV serotypes involved.

Who should get the vaccine and when?

Every girl child in India should be offered this vaccine. It can be given to anyone above 9 years till 45 years, but the ideal time is between the ages 11-12. Before her 15th birthday, only two doses need to be given to the child. After age of 15, three doses must be given to complete vaccination against HPV. The vaccine works best if administered before sexual activity.

Does the vaccine have any side-effects?

Like the COVID vaccine, some experience fever, pain at injection site and headache- nothing long lasting!

How to detect this cancer early?

Every woman must get checked periodically by getting either a HPV test or a Pap Smear after 30 years of age, to detect any pre-cancer conditions and promptly treat them. These tests are done in three yearly or five yearly intervals till she reaches 65 years.

“Today, most cervical cancer cases we see are at 3rd or 4th stage, where the cancer has already spread outside the womb and the treatment process is complex and costly. Women should understand the importance of doing these tests regularly,” Dr.Aarthi adds. “We live in the era of prevention. The idea is to stop women from getting ill.”

How the world deals with this?

For the first time, the world has committed to end a cancer through vaccination and screening. The WHO Director-General announced a global call to all world nations to increase awareness and efforts to end cervical cancer by 2030.

Scenario in India

In India, there are certain cultural and economic barriers in the cervical cancer elimination efforts. There is reluctance among women to talk about this sexually transmitted disease. Getting a Pap test is a temporary inconvenience and embarrassment that prevents many women from getting this life-saving test. Some fear about the treatment and costs. Sadly, all this culminates in risking lives of 1.2 lakh Indian women every year.

Awareness & Steps by Womens Center:

Dr. Aarthi said that Womens Center is celebrating January 2022 as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and has made it standard practice for all the medical staff to reach to every woman patient who comes to their hospital, and make sure that every female member of the woman’s family is offered vaccination and screening. Every girl child in the family is advised for vaccination and briefly about the impact. This is done by posters, pamphlets, and videos on HPV vaccination awareness on television monitors as one sits in the waiting area of the hospital.

The hospital, through education partners, reach out to schools and colleges regarding HPV vaccination.

Be a Hero in January:

“Worldwide, January is the month dedicated to create awareness and show support to women suffering from cervical cancer. Every life lost to this deadly disease is potentially preventable and cervical cancer could be the first cancer ever in the world to be eliminated, Let’s vow to create awareness to this illness and protect our kids by vaccinating them. Let’s vow to have a cervical cancer free India,” says Dr. Aarthi determined.