Doctors have warned not all women are aware of the importance of the HPV vaccination to combat cervical cancer
25 April 2019| Last updated on 28 April 2019
Recent figures show that more than 1.82 million women in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) aged 15 or older are at the risk of developing cervical cancer.
The cancer also currently ranks as the fourth most frequent cancer amongst women in the UAE, and current estimates show that there were 56 deaths out of 108 women diagnosed with cervical cancer last year.
Cervical cancer develops when cells grow out of control and may spread to other tissues of the body. The cancer usually develops from a dysplasia, which is a precancerous condition can easily be detected by a Papanicolaou test (also called a pap smear) and is treatable. This progression to cancer can take years, so it is important to catch the condition in its early stages!
During the pap smear examination, a brush is used to take a swab of the cervical wall is taken to detect changes in cells that may be indicative of cancer, so that action can be taken early to treat it.
The majority of cervical cancers are caused by a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV). Although there are over 100 different strains of HPV, around 13 can lead to cervical cancer. Studies have shown that other risk factors for cervical cancer include a family history of the disease, smoking, a weakened immune system and birth control pills.
Here’s what you need to know about the HPV vaccine:
- The vaccine stimulates the body to produce antibodies that bind and prevent it from infecting other cells
- Vaccination programs target young women under the age of 16
- If you haven’t yet received the vaccination, women up to the age of 26 can receive the vaccination
- The HPV vaccine has been found to be safe when given to people already infected with HPV because it may protect them against high risk HPV types that they have not yet acquired
- Vaccine will not cure current HPV infection or treat abnormal results of the Pap test
- The HPV vaccine does not cause HPV infection or cancer and will have no effect on future fertility for women
- Side effects are generally mild – mostly pain at the injection site or headache
- Boys should also be vaccinated, as it can help protect other cancers caused by the HPV virus
Recommended schedule of vaccination:
- 2 doses of HPV vaccine 6-12 months apart if you are under the ages of 15 years old
- 3 doses of HPV vaccine 1-6 months apart if you are over the age of 15 years or immunocompromised
It is important to note that vaccinated women still need regular cervical cancer screening through pap smears as the vaccine does not protect against all HPV strains. The vaccines have undergone clinical trials and it was found that their benefits outweigh any side effects such as injection site soreness that may be experienced.
In the early stages of cervical cancer, a person may experience no symptoms at all. When symptoms do appear, patients may experience bleeding, discomfort, discharge or pelvic pain.
Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of all three. If any symptoms are experienced or HPV infection is suspected, it is important to see a healthcare professional.
Authored by Dr. Patretia Edward
Dr. Patretia Edward
Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology
Medcare Hospital, Sharjah.