Cervical cancer affects around 1 in 135 women during their lifetime. In 2013, around 3200 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed, with over half of these in women under the age of 45. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is thought to be linked to all cases of cervical cancer in the UK, though vaccines are available which help to protect the cancers and genital warts associated with HPV.
HPV is extremely common and transmitted through sexual contact. There are over 100 different types of HPV and around half of all people will be exposed to at least a type of the virus in their lifetime. Many infected individuals will have few or no symptoms of the virus, though HPV is associated with the following conditions-
- Genital warts – small growths in the genital or anal area
- Skin warts and verrucas
- Vaginal cancer
- Vulval cancer
- Anal cancer
- Penile cancer
The Gardasil vaccine is used in the national NHS cervical cancer vaccination scheme and is specifically targeted against the types of HPV most commonly linked to cancers of the genitals (Types 16 and 18) and genital warts (Types 6 and 11). The vaccine is not used to treat the virus and is intended to prevent infection before it occurs. Gardasil is used to give individuals the antibodies needed to prevent HPV 6-, 11-, 16- and 18-related disease but doesn’t have any effect on those already infected. This is why the vaccine is best given in young people before they become sexually active, to reduce the likelihood of existing infection.
The NHS HPV vaccine schedule is targeted at 12-13 year old girls in the UK, with the majority receiving the vaccine during year 8. However, it is recommended for use in women aged 9-26 for prevention of vaginal, vulval, cervical and anal cancers and genital warts. Young men aged 9-26 can also benefit from receiving the vaccine, which is effective in preventing penile and anal cancers in later life. The course is usually delivered as 2 vaccines over a 6 month period, though those receiving the vaccine over the age of 15 may require 3 doses.
Though the vaccine is safe and extremely useful in preventing cancers, it is important for women to still attend regular cervical screening, which detects the presence of abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancerous. The vaccine also doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted infections, so even after receiving the vaccine, it is important to protect yourself against STI using barrier methods of contraception like condoms.
To make an appointment and protect yourself against HPV infection, call Travel Klinix 02476 016519.