HPV vaccine - Cervical Cancer & Genital Warts Vaccine

The HPV vaccine has recently been introduced in the UK to protect young women against cervical cancer. The vaccine is intended to shield against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is a recognised cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine was introduced in September 2008 and is now given to year 8 girls (usually aged between 12 and 13) in the UK. A programme was also launched for older girls, aged 14 and 17 in September 2008 and most Primary Care Trusts were aiming to complete the programme within 2 years.

The vaccination

The HPV vaccine, also known as the cervical cancer vaccine, is given in doses of three within a period of 6 months. Between September 2008 and July 2010, more than 4 million doses of Cervarix were given in the UK. The vaccine is injected into the upper arm or thigh. Cervarix has been found to protect against HPV-16 and HPV-18, which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. Cervarix does not protect against genital warts or other forms of HPV, so it is important to use condoms during sexual intercourse.

There have been suggestions that the vaccine could be offered to more people in the future, including boys, as HPV has been found to increase the risk of other forms of cancer, such as mouth cancer.

The vaccination is not routinely offered to older women and it will not protect against existing HPV infections or treat cervical cancer. If you are aged over 25 you should have regular screening tests (known as smear tests) and see your GP if you develop symptoms including bleeding between periods or after sexual intercourse.

Are there any side-effects?

It is fairly common to experience after-effects from the HPV vaccine. However, they should only be very mild and should subside quickly. They include:

  • Pain at the place of the injection.
  • Tiredness.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Nausea.
  • Sickness.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Tummy pain.
  • Pain in the joints.
  • A high temperature.

About HPV

HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus, is a very common virus and around 8 in 10 people are exposed to the HPV in their lifetime. HPV infections are spread through sexual contact. Two types of HPV, HPV-18 and HPV-16, have been found to cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. Cancer develops when the immune system fails to fight off an HPV infection and pre-cancerous cells develop in the cervix. If pre-cancerous cells are not treated, they can develop into cancerous cells.

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