The much touted human papillo virus (HPV) vaccine, known to prevent cervical cancer in women, can work only if the vaccine is given to the girl child before she attains puberty, said doctors from Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), Parel.
The talk was given on the occasion of World Cancer Day that was on Monday. The theme was dispelling myths about cancer.
“HPV vaccines are marketed by the pharmaceutical companies and gyneacologists ask women to take the vaccine. The fact is the vaccine is effective for HPV naive girls, meaning girls who do not have contact with the HPV virus. Since HPV virus is sexually transmitted, the vaccine is effective only before the girl has had sexual contact, not after,” said Dr Surendra Shastri, head of preventive oncology, TMH.
Dr Shastri added that the vaccine can be given safely to pre-pubertal girls in the age groups of eight to 12 years. “Should an adult woman take the vaccine? The clear answer in all the studies is no,” said Dr Shastri.
The HPV is the causative agent for cervical cancer in more than 99% of the cases.
Dr Shastri said that there is no long term trial to show the efficacy of the vaccine in reducing mortality in the population. “We will have to wait for 10-15 years for the trial results to be out. Till then we cannot even talk about the efficacy in reducing mortality,” said Dr Shastri.
“As per our guidelines, ideally the vaccine should be administered to women not exposed to sexual activity. But that does not mean that it cannot be given to women who are exposed to sexual activity. If they are exposed to one or two variants of the virus, they could still benefit from the vaccine. We do not want to deny women the opportunity to vaccinate themselves,”said Dr Ashwini Bhalerao-Gandhi, vice president Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India.