#AskADoc: Why Is a Cervical Cancer Vaccine Important?

And learn more about HPV, from causes to symptoms.

Meet Dr Natasha Dole, our resident doc. She’s here to answer all your health-related questions.

It’s time to bust another medical myth with #AskADoc!

Dr Natasha Dole

Dr Natasha Dole

How Important Is It to Get a Cervical Cancer Vaccine?

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in South African women. Contrary to popular belief, cancer kills more people worldwide than HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and even Malaria.

Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer 

  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Partners who have had multiple sexual partners previously
  • Unprotected sex
  • Sexually active from a very early age
  • Decreased immune system
  • Family history or cervix cancer
  • Family history of cancer of lower genital tract
  • Previous cancer of lower genital tract
  • Smoking

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer 

Unfortunately, like with most cancers, the signs and symptoms never appear early. When symptoms do occur, they include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pain in advanced disease
  • Any bleeding from the vagina other than during your normal menstrual cycle
  • Abnormal and persistent vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding during sex
  • Painful sex

Advanced symptoms may include leg pain, bone fractures or swelling and leakage of urine or feces from the vagina.

The above symptoms do not always indicate that someone has cancer. Other conditions may cause these symptoms, but a check-up is necessary to determine the cause.

Cervix Cancer Vaccination 

There are currently two different cervix cancer vaccinations on the market. Both vaccines protect against the main four types of human papillomavirus (HPV):

  • HPV 6
  • HPV 11
  • HPV 16
  • HPV 18

The human papillomavirus is responsible for approximately 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. There are multiple strains of HPV and most types do not cause cervical cancer. However, the above-mentioned four strains are more likely to lead to the disease.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) currently recommends that all girls between the age of 11 and 12 should be vaccinated. The general rule of thumb is that all girls should be vaccinated prior to becoming sexually active. The HPV has been successfully given to girls as young as 9 years of age. In addition, it has been given to girls aged 13-26 years who have not previously been vaccinated.

The HPV vaccine is administered in three injections. This is done over a six-month period. Vaccination allows the immune system to develop antibodies before likely exposure to HPV during a sexual encounter. Recent studies tell us that this vaccine remains effective for at least five years. No decrease in immunity occurs in this time. The good news is that protection may last even longer than five years. Currently, no booster vaccines are needed however this research continues and may change over the years.

Please remember that the cervix cancer vaccination does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

The bottom line is that the cervix cancer vaccination is extremely beneficial with minimal adverse effects and comes highly recommended!

Read more Body Health

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