21 January 2019

Preventing cervical cancer: the importance of the HPV vaccine


The majority of men and women, (around 80 per cent of sexually active people), are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point in their lives, but most people never know they have the virus. This is an alarming statistic, particularly if you've never heard of HPV. 

So, what is HPV? HPV is the name given to a  common group of viruses. There are many types of HPVsome of which are called "high riskbecause they're linked to the development of cancerssuch as cervical canceranal cancergenital cancers and cancers of the head and neck. 

This week it's Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and we're exploring measures you can take to reduce your risk of cervical cancer. One way to minimise your risk is to have the HPV vaccination.

About 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK. It is currently the most common cancer in women under 35 and kills around 850 UK women every year.

Studies have already shown that the vaccine protects against HPV infection for at least 10 years, although experts expect protection to last for much longer.

However, the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, so it's important that all girls and women who receive the HPV vaccine also have regular cervical screening once they reach the age of 25.

A few facts about the HPV vaccination...  

  • From the age of 12 up until their 18th birthday, all girls can get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine free on the NHS.
  • There are more than 100 different types of HPV and around 40 that affect the genital area.
  • HPV is very common and can be caught through any kind of sexual contact with another person who already has it.
  • In clinical trials, the vaccine was over 99% effective at preventing pre-cancer caused by HPV types 16 or 18 in young women. 
  • Most people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives, and their bodies will get rid of it naturally without treatment.

More information on the vaccine itself can be found, here. 

Boys are not currently offered the HPV vaccine in schools as the HPV vaccination programme was introduced to help protect women against cervical cancer, as high-risk HPV causes 99.7% of all cervical cancers. 

 In 2018, the JCVI recommended that boys should also be offered the HPV vaccine. 

What do you think? Should boys be offered the HPV vaccine? Let us know in the comments section.