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4 Of 5 Indians Are HPV Positive: FOGSI Doctors Explain The Role Of HPV Vaccine In Cervical Cancer Prevention

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In an exclusive interaction with OnlyMyHealth, members of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) highlighted the prevalence of cervical cancer in India and discussed the role of the HPV vaccine in reducing the risk of the disease.

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when cells in the cervix start to grow uncontrollably, leading to the formation of a tumour. In most cases, it is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which currently affects 4 out of every 5 people in India, according to Dr Priya Ganesh Kumar, Chairperson, Gynaecologic Oncology Committee, FOGSI.

HPV is a group of more than 200 viruses that can spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and cancer occurs in almost all sexually active people, regardless of their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, says the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Also Read: HPV Symptoms That All Women Should Be Aware Of

Prevention Is Key

When it comes to cancer, prevention is key, said Dr Hrishikesh D. Pai, President, FOGSI.

According to him, getting a cancer diagnosis is a battle that is already lost, which is why he emphasises that the focus should be on prevention and spreading awareness around vaccinations that can help reduce the risk.

One of the ways it can be done is by integrating healthcare into the education system, Dr Pai opined, adding that if, from a young age, children read and learn about common health issues, including HPV infection, they will themselves demand preventive measures, such as vaccines.

Additionally, he suggested that awareness should also be given at the parental level; only then are they likely to protect themselves as well as their children.

Adding to it, Dr Reshma Dhillon Pai, Former President of FOGSI, said that cervical cancer is one of the rare cancers for which a cause has been found: a simple virus called HPV that can be prevented.

“Our job is to spread awareness and create a buzz around vaccines so that we can at least prevent one of the cancers,” she said.

Role Of HPV Vaccine

In India, there is a large population of women aged 15 and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer, most of which is caused by HPV.

According to the NCI, the HPV vaccine has the potential to prevent up to 90% of cancers caused by HPV infection and genital warts.

HPV vaccination is said to be most effective in girls and boys aged between 9 and 14. However, sexually active individuals who are younger than 40–45 years of age and those who have already been exposed to certain strains of HPV can get the vaccine, as it can protect them against cervical cancer, said Dr Reshma Pai.

Adding to it, Dr Kumar shared that the HPV vaccine can also prevent other types of cancers, including anal, vaginal, vulvar, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers.

Also Read: WHO Issues Screening Guidelines To Eliminate Cervical Cancer: Expert Shares Early Signs For Timely Detection

‘Lack Of Knowledge And Accessibility, Not Vaccine Hesitancy’

According to Dr Reshma Pai, vaccine hesitancy in India is very low. Given that the majority of children are vaccinated against every illness during their childhood, it indicates that adults are welcoming of the idea. However, she attributes low HPV vaccination rates to a lack of knowledge and accessibility.

Dr Madhuri Patel, Secretary General, FOGSI, also brought to our attention the concerns of parents when it comes to vaccinating children against HPV. Since HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), many parents express concern over whether it is an appropriate vaccination to give to a child.

This is why it is important to note that HPV should not always be associated with sexual activities; rather, the emphasis should be on preventing future infections and reducing the risk of cancer, the doctors explained.

Taking an initiative to spread more awareness around the HPV vaccine and to control the burden of cervical cancer in India, FOGSI, in collaboration with MSD, will be training 15,000 doctors for the same.

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