Early detection and prompt diagnosis can help battle cervical cancer: Expert

Experts recommend getting young girls vaccinated around the age of 11 or 12

Cervical cancer Representational image

With mortality rates of 12.4 per one lakh women per year, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in India. Around 25 per cent of all global deaths due to cervical cancer occur in India. About 96,922 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed annually in India. Effective information, education and communication strategies are required to improve the level of awareness of women on cervical cancer.

These figures were revealed in a number of academic papers released in the last one year, raising an alarm about the lack of awareness regarding cervical cancer in the country, especially among adolescent girls. Recently, Sudha Murthy pressed on the need to raise awareness regarding the HPV vaccine, which helps in preventing the risk of cervical cancer. In view of this, THE WEEK spoke to Dr Surabhi Siddhartha, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospital, in Mumbai's Kharghar.

Tell us about the significance of the HPV vaccine specifically for adolescent girls...

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is an effective tool in safeguarding adolescent girls from the dangerous threat of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the tissue of the cervix, which is located at the lower part of the uterus. By getting vaccinated at a young age, adolescent girls can significantly reduce their risk of developing life-threatening diseases like cervical cancer.

As per your current observations, what are the chances that a female in India contracts cervical cancer?

According to current observations, around two out of 10 Indian women are at high risk of contracting cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a serious health concern that requires prompt diagnosis, as it affects a large population. Factors contributing to this high risk include lack of awareness and knowledge, limited healthcare facilities in remote areas, and societal taboos around reproductive health.

How many cervical vaccines have you administered so far to teens and pre-teens in the last one year?

Due to a lack of awareness, we are still not able to achieve 100 per cent vaccination rates. However, in the last year, we were able to administer the HPV vaccine to at least 200 to 300 individuals. While this number is less than ideal, it is still an improvement compared to before.

The number of children getting this vaccine remains low? If yes, then what as per you are the reasons for the same?

It is possible to combat cervical cancer through early detection and prompt diagnosis. Experts recommend getting young girls vaccinated with the HPV vaccine around the age of 11 or 12, as the vaccine is most effective before they become sexually active.

Tell us about the youngest girl/woman you came across in your practice, who survived cervical cancer?

We had a 35-year-old patient who repeatedly presented with white discharge and a history of two normal vaginal deliveries. She was initially treated for a fungal infection, but upon further examination, a Pap smear and liquid cytology revealed mild atypia. A cervical biopsy confirmed early-stage cervical cancer. Despite her young age, we had to perform a hysterectomy, while preserving her ovaries. This case highlights the importance of regular cervical cancer screening, even in younger women with seemingly benign symptoms. The HPV vaccine is a crucial tool in protecting adolescent girls from the devastating impacts of cervical cancer. However, more needs to be done to increase awareness, address societal taboos, and ensure accessibility of this life-saving vaccine, especially in under-served communities.


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