Cervical cancer, mainly caused by Human Papiloma Virus (HPV) has been ranked as the most frequent cancer among Indian women. As per the current statistics, 1,32,000 cases get diagnosed each year producing around 74,000 deaths annually in India.
HPV transmission is influenced by sexual activity and age. Around 75 % of the population is likely to be infected with at least one type of HPV in their lifetime. It is also important to mention that infection with HPV may be mandatory to cause cervical cancer but it is not the only cause leading to cervical cancer.
HPV can be prevented by abstinence and by following lifetime mutual monogamy. There is no clear evidence that the commonly used protections like condoms help guard against HPV infection. Thus, prevention of cervical cancer by vaccination is emerging as the most effective option.
Two vaccines licensed globally are available in India – GardasilTM (Merck, Rs. 2800 per dose) and CervarixTM (GSK, Rs.3299 per dose). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the vaccine for all girls between 9 and 13 years, because the vaccine is highly immunogenic at this age.
A total of three doses at 0, 2 and 6 months are recommended for GardasilTM whereas doses at 0, 1 and 6 months are recommended for CervarixTM. These vaccines are prophylactic (protective) in nature but give no protection to women already infected with HPV.
The benefits of the three doses are established by a study conducted in India, Brazil, Mexico and China at the Catalan Institute of Oncology, Spain. The results are very positive halving the women’s lifetime risk to cervical cancer.
HPV vaccinations serve as a primary method to prevent cervical cancer. A cost-effective second-generation HPV vaccination is the need of the hour to cater to developing countries and rural areas.
Indian government is considering offering the cervical cancer vaccine to all female children as part of its national immunization plan.
Delhi will be the first state to initiate free vaccination to adolescent girls studying in class VI in government schools.
Much said, HPV vaccination and regular cervical screening is the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer and development of a vaccination is a progressive step towards reducing the chances of cervical cancer in women.