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That's puzzling!

Should you get a cervical cancer vaccine?

If you are approaching teenage, you may begin to hear about the HPV vaccine. A vaccine for teenagers! Didn’t you get done with them as a kid? The answer is sadly no. The HPV vaccine is a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer but can only be taken when you are approaching puberty or thereafter. So why should you get that vaccine? Let’s find out in this edition of That’s Puzzling Me.

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix – the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It includes the vulva, and vagina and is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that is generally transmitted through sexual contact. 

Don’t forget to check out this wonderful video that explains HPV:

HPV and Cervical Cancer

Human papillomavirus HPV is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during genital contact, skin-to-skin contact, and oral and penetrative sex. 

There are many types of HPV. Most types do not cause cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina and cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix. It is caused majorly by a type of human papillomavirus (HPV) which is commonly contracted through Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia and HIV/AIDS.

How do you get HPV? 

HPV is transmitted during genital sexual contact. It includes unprotected vaginal or anal sex and possibly oral sex with the infected person. A person can get HPV even if years have passed since he or she had unprotected sex.

Boys are at risk too 

HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer in women and genital warts in both men and women. Genital warts are considered a lesser risk because they are seldom linked to cancer.

Men cannot develop cervical cancer but can have other cancers from HPV such as penile cancer and cancers of the anus, mouth and throat in both men and women. 

What are the symptoms?

  • Not visible at an early stage. 
  • Only at the advanced stage woman may experience pain and bleeding during or after sexual intercourse. 
  • Foul-smelling discharge from their vagina 
  • Abnormal bleeding during periods. 
  • Pelvic pain during sex
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss 
  • Back pain 
  • Swollen legs

How to detect HPV? 

You can go to a specialized doctor (a gynaecologist – for females) and get a Papanicolaou test (Pap test) done. This test screens and reveals pre-cancerous developments in the cervix. If the result is negative, you’re okay. 


To reduce your risk of cervical cancer:

  • HPV vaccine: Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. 
  • Pap tests: Have routine pap tests beginning at age 21 and repeating them every few years.
  • Practice safe sex: Use a condom every time you have sex. Limit the number of sexual partners. 
  • Quit smoking: If you do smoke, get medical help to quit smoking. Smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer. 

Cervical cancer/HPV vaccine 

The HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer. This vaccine works best when given to a girl who is not yet sexually active and is aged 9 to 26 years. The vaccines do not treat pre-existing HPV infections and so must be administered before initiation of sexual activity.

In boys, the HPV vaccine may prevent genital warts, penile cancer, anal cancer and the spread of HPV to sexual partners. The vaccine protects against HPV infection for at least 10 years, although experts expect protection to last for much longer.

The vaccine can also be taken by those who have already been sexually active but its efficacy is best before your first sexual activity and thus during your teenage. 

Is this vaccine 100% protective? 

This vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer hence everyone (even after vaccination) is advised to get regular cervical screening after they attain the age of 25. 

Photo: Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com/Persons in the photo are models. 

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