CHENNAI: Early marriage and thereby, an early sexual life, and a conservative culture where women don’t openly discuss their health problems have led to a rise in the number of cervical cancer incidences and deaths in the country, according to Dr Usha Reddy, consultant gynaecologist, Vijaya Health Centre. She was speaking at an awareness event organised by MSD Pharmaceuticals, to encourage the use of their HPV vaccine Gardasil, to prevent such cancers.
India has one-fifth of the world population, but is home to one-fourth of the cervical cancer patients. “Also, one-fourth of the cervical cancer-caused deaths occur in India,” said Professor Margaret A Stanley, Director of Research, Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge. The Human Papillomavirus or HPV, which causes cervical cancer, is also associated with several other cancers among men and women, including those of the tonsil, larynx, head and neck, Prof Stanley said, adding that at least five per cent of all cancers are associated with the virus. She advocated the use of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine marketed by MSD, to prevent HPV, which is the cause for these infections. Women and men with multiple sexual partners are at risk of contracting the virus, which can later lead to cancer, but there is poor awareness about it. Also, cultural values still prevent Indian women from confiding in a gynaecologist about lower abdominal pain. Women even from upper middle class urban cities are reluctant to undertake a pap smear screening test regularly, said Dr Usha. “It was important to undertake the screening test every two years,” she added.