Do cervical cancer data justify HPV vaccination in India? Epidemiological data sources and comprehensiveness

Published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine; June 2012 105:229

Authors: I Mattheij,1   AM Pollock,2 P Brhlikova3


The Indian government suspended research in April 2010 on the feasibility and safety of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in two Indian states (Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat) amid public concerns about its safety. This paper describes cervical cancer and cancer surveillance in India and reviews the epidemiological claims made by the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) in support of the vaccine in these two states. National cancer data published by the Indian National Cancer Registry Programme of state registry returns and the International Agency for Research on Cancer cover around seven percent of the population with underrepresentation of rural, northern, eastern and north-eastern areas. There is no cancer registry in the state of Andhra Pradesh and PATH does not cite data from the Gujarat cancer registries. Age-adjusted cervical cancer mortality and incidence rates vary widely across and within states. National trends in age standardized cervical cancer incidence fell from 42.3 to 22.3 per 100,000 between 1982/1983 and 2004/2005 respectively. Incidence studies report low incidence and mortality rates in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Although HPV prevalence is higher in cancer patients (93.3%) than healthy patients (7.0%) and HPV types 16 and 18 are most prevalent in cancer patients, population prevelance data are poor and studies highly variable in their findings. Current data on HPV type and cervical cancer incidence do not support PATH’s claim that India has a large burden of cervical cancer or its decision to roll out the vaccine programme. In the absence of comprehensive cancer surveillance, World Health Organization criteria with respect to monitoring effectiveness of the vaccine and knowledge of disease trends cannot be fulfilled.

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  1. 1School of Social and Political Science, Centre for International Public Health Policy, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

  2. 2Centre for Primary Care and Public Health, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK

  3. 3School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to: Allyson Pollock. Email:

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