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The HPV Vaccine

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. There are over 100 types of HPV but only 13 of them are known to cause cancer. The others are harmless or cause genital warts (STI).

You get HPV by being sexually active with someone else who has it. It is very common and over half of all women who have sex will get infected with HPV at some time in their lifetime.

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix – which is the entrance to the womb. 99% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.

How HPV Can Cause Cervical Cancer

Most HPV infections are harmless or cause genital warts, however some types can cause cervical cancer.

Most HPV infections clear up by themselves, but in some people the infection can last a long time. HPV infects the cells of the surface of the cervix where it can stay for many years without you knowing. The HPV virus can damage these cells leading to changes in their appearance. Over time, these changes can develop into cervical cancer.

The purpose of cervical screening (testing) is to detect these changes, which, if picked up early enough, can be treated to prevent cancer happening. If they are left untreated, cancer can develop and may lead to serious illness and death.

What Does The HPV Vaccine Protect Against?

The HPV vaccine protects against the two strains of HPV (16 and 18) that cause cervical cancer in over 70% of women. It does not protect against any other sexually transmitted infections or against pregnancy.

Because the HPV vaccine does not protect against ALL cervical cancers, it is really important for all girls to have cervical screening later in life. The NHS cervical screening programme will continue after the introduction of the HPV vaccine (cervical screening in England is offered from the age of 25).

Is The Vaccine Safe?

The vaccine has undergone rigorous safety testing as part of the licensing process required in the UK and other European countries.

Who Is The Vaccine For?

The HPV vaccination programme started in September 2008 with all 12 to 13 year-old and 17 to 18 year-old girls being offered the vaccine. A catch-up programme was also announced at this time with 13 to 18 year-old girls being offered the vaccine over the following two academic years.

As a result of the success of these programmes, an accelerated catch-up programme was announced in December 2008 so that all girls born on or after 1st September 1990 could be protected before the end of the academic year 2009/10.

If I am under 18yrs in Halton and St Helens where can I go to get the vaccine?

If you are in school or school-aged your School Health Nurse will do the vaccines but if you have just missed out then you can go to your GP.

At what age do women get cervical cancer?

Women are more likely to develop cervical cancer in their 30s, and in their 60s to 80s (these older women are less likely to have had cervical screening during their lifetimes).

Does using condoms reduce your chances of getting HPV?

Using condoms does reduce the risk of getting HPV. However it doesn’t mean you can’t get HPV because the virus can be spread from areas of the body that a condom doesn’t cover. Remember you can get HPV through intimate sexual contact.

Do you have to have to have sex with a lot of people to get HPV?

No, anyone who has had intimate sexual contact is at-risk. However, the risk of getting HPV does increase with the number of people you’ve had sex with and will also depend on the sexual history of those people.

If HPV is so common and you don’t know you’ve got it, how do you know you’ve been infected?

Usually you don’t, this is why cervical screening is so important.

Will I still need to be screened even if I’ve been vaccinated?

Yes. Even after you’ve had the vaccination, you will still need to be regularly screened (tested) in case you get infected with an HPV type the vaccine doesn’t protect against, or you were already infected before you had the vaccine. Having the test every three years should pick up any abnormalities before they get too serious. The test is called ‘cervical screening’ or a ‘smear test’.

Can HPV infection be treated?

There is no specific treatment for HPV infection. Treatments for cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer, and other diseases caused by HPV, such as warts, concentrate on removing or destroying abnormal tissue.

This information is from the NHS. Please visit their website for more details on HPV www.immunisation.nhs.uk

Click here to download the HPV Fact Sheet from the NHS website.

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