A cancer that claimed the lives of more than 400 Hoosier women in four years is on the decline as more preteens receive HPV vaccinations.
From 2006 to 2010, 1,277 Hoosier women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 413 women died of cervical cancer in Indiana according to Amanda Turney, communications coordinator at the Indiana State Department of Health.
A key to preventing cervical dysplasia, a precursor to the cancer, and cervical cancer itself is vaccinating preteens against the HPV, or human papillomavirus. HPV is responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Northwest Indiana is about on par with national figures of HPV infection and the increase of HPV vaccinations in the past few years has made a positive impact, said Sameer Sharma, a gynecological oncologist at Gynecological Oncology Center in Dyer.
“Overall, HPV is widely prevelant,” he said. “Fifty million get infected with HPV every year and a vast majority of women in America have HPV but just may not have any manifestations.”
Almost 98 to 99 percent of cervical cancers are going to be HPV positive, he said. The vaccines that guard against HPV are highly effective and safe. Most doctors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend vaccinating boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12 as a starting point. The vaccine is also recommended for girls ages 13 to 26 and boys ages 13 to 21, who have not yet been vaccinated, according to the CDC.
“The key is really to vaccinate them before they become sexually active,” Sharma said. As long as you can do that, the age is not important.”
The two most common HPV vaccines, Gardisal and Cervarix, are given as a series of three shots over six months.
Sharma, who also works at a practice in Chicago, said some risk factors for HPV turning into cervical cancer include lack of access to healthcare and smoking, making some populations in Northwest Indiana and Chicago more at risk.
Some patients from poorer areas of the Region have more trouble accessing healthcare and may go longer in between pap smears, seeking treatment for an abnormal pap smear and other early disease diagnostics.
When the early stages of the disease are not diagnosed, it can turn into cervical cancer, he said.
Parents typically agree to the vaccine, Sharma said, because it is effective and safe. Studies show an over 90 percent efficacy for preventing cervical dysplasia by having the vaccine.
Sharma recently attended a meeting with the Centers for Disease Control as part of a cervical cancer prevention group. The CDC showed findings of girls who had been vaccinated between 2003 to 2006 vs. 2007 to 2010. As far as the number of HPV related cervical dysplasia, there was a 60 percent decrease during that period.
“Nobody would expect you’d see a 60 percent decrease over such a short period of time,” Sharma said. “I think we’ll start to see the overall cervical dysplasia numbers will drop.”