Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that involves your cervix (the lowermost part of your uterus). 

It is the fourth most common type of cancer among women globally, with roughly over 6,00,000 new cases being reported every year. 

It is caused by Human papillomavirus (HPV) and is mainly transmitted through sexual contact. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases.

If not caught early, cervical cancer, like any other cancer, could be fatal. The only way to ensure that you are safe from HPV infection is to get vaccinated for it. 

HPV vaccination offers the best possible protection against cervical cancer.

Read further to get your answers to frequently asked questions about the HPV vaccine.

1. What are HPV vaccines?

The HPV vaccine is an injectable vaccine, which helps to prevent cancer of the cervix. This vaccine can also help in the prevention of vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, and genital warts and anal cancer in women and men. 

HPV vaccine in India protects from getting infected by 4 types of HPV - HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18.

2. What is the most appropriate time to take this vaccine?

As the HPV virus is mostly transmitted through sexual contact, the ideal time for taking this vaccine is before you become sexually active. 

It is therefore recommended to get your first dose of HPV vaccination when you are around 9 to 12 years old (preteens). 

If you have missed the vaccine shot in your preteens, and you are sexually active, then get yourself vaccinated quickly.

3. What is the vaccination schedule?

If you are less than 15 years old, you will be given 2 doses, which are 6 months apart. However, if you are more than 15 years old, you will need 3 doses over a 6 month period. The HPV vaccine can be taken with other vaccines if the need arises. 

There is no need to restart the vaccination process if you have missed a dose. Schedule your appointment for the missed dose as soon as you remember it.

4. Are there any side effects?

Vaccines, like any other medicine, may cause adverse reactions. There can be minor side effects like pain, redness, or soreness at the injection site. 

These are often short-lasting and resolve on their own. Other side effects can be:

  • Pain, redness and/or swelling at the injection site

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Joint pain

  • Nausea

5. Should pap smear screening continue after vaccination also?

Vaccination reduces the risk of cervical cancer but does not guarantee that it will not happen. 

To reduce the chances of cervical cancer, pap smear screening should continue even after vaccination.

6. Who should not take the HPV vaccine?

HPV vaccines are extremely safe to use with zero to minimal side effects. However, there are some conditions in which HPV vaccines can do more harm than good. 

Inform your doctor if you are:

  • Pregnant

  • Allergic to yeast

  • Allergic to HPV vaccines

7. Is there an age limit for HPV vaccination in India?

It is better to get vaccinated before the age of 26. If you are sexually active and have no history of HPV vaccination, then you should check with your doctor for a “catch-up” vaccination. 

If you are below 26 years old and have just delivered a baby, then you can have HPV vaccine just after delivery (postpartum). HPV vaccines are safe to use even if you are a lactating mother.

If you are aged between 27 to 45 years, you would have to visit your gynaecologist for an initial screening which would decide whether the HPV vaccine will be of any help or not. 

Your doctor will discuss all the potential risks, benefits, and effectiveness with you before giving you the HPV vaccine. HPV vaccines are not given to women after the age of 45.

8. Is there anything else that can help in the prevention of cervical cancer?

Apart from getting vaccinated, there are a few more things you can do to prevent cervical cancer:

  • Use a condom. Practising safe sexual practices can help prevent HPV and other sexually transmitted infections.

  • Stop smoking. According to research, smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer. 

  • Limit your exposure to HPV. This virus spreads through sexual contact, so the more partners you have, the greater is your risk of getting exposed to HPV.

It is not very common for people to talk about the HPV vaccine, hence it gets ignored quite often. 

Consult your doctor if you are eligible for the HPV vaccine. Remember, prevention is better than cure.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.