Human Papillomavirus (HPV) stands out as the predominant cause of almost all cervical cancers. However, it's important to note that there are additional factors that can heighten the risk of developing cervical cancer. The primary risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV, a prevalent virus typically transmitted through sexual activity. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are attributed to HPV, which comprises various types. Some types of HPV can induce changes in the cervix, potentially leading to cervical cancer, while others may result in genital or skin warts.
Given its widespread prevalence, most individuals contract HPV at some point in their lives. A notable aspect of HPV is its often asymptomatic nature, making it challenging to detect. In many cases, HPV resolves on its own without causing any noticeable symptoms. However, if the virus persists, there is a potential risk that, over time, it may contribute to the development of cervical cancer.
Reducing the risk of cervical cancer involves several key actions, including HPV vaccination, regular screening tests, and prompt medical attention if test results are abnormal.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine provides protection against the HPV strains most responsible for cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Administered to preteens aged 11 to 12 (starting from age 9) and recommended for individuals up to 26 years old, the vaccine may be considered by some adults aged 27 to 45 after consulting their doctor regarding potential benefits and risks. The vaccine is most effective when initiated before age 15, using a two-dose schedule or a three-shot series for those starting the series after their 15th birthday.
While HPV vaccination prevents new infections, it doesn't treat existing ones. Therefore, regular screening for cervical cancer is essential, even for those vaccinated. Two screening tests—Pap test and HPV test—detect precancers or HPV, aiding in early intervention.
An additional measure to lower cervical cancer risk includes using condoms during sex. Although the impact of condoms on preventing HPV is uncertain, their use has been linked to a lower rate of cervical cancer.
Three HPV vaccines are currently available:
The majority of individuals eligible for the HPV vaccine can receive it. You are not eligible for the vaccine if you have experienced a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. Although there is no evidence suggesting harm from the vaccine during pregnancy, it is recommended to postpone vaccination until after pregnancy. It is safe to receive the HPV vaccine while breastfeeding.
Extensive clinical trials have confirmed the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccine. Similar to any medication, vaccines may induce side effects. Common mild side effects associated with HPV vaccinations typically improve within a day or two and include:
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