What is HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)?
HPV is a viral infection which can cause cervical cancer. There are over 100 types of HPV but only 13 of these are known to cause cervical cancer. HPV is very common and is caught through intimate sexual contact with another person who is already infected.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer of the entrance to the womb. It is caused by HPV in 99% of cases and is the second most common cancer in women worldwide.
What is the HPV vaccine?Prior to September 2012, the vaccine ‘Cervarix’ was used in the national vaccination programme. This offered protection against the 2 types of HPV that cause most cases (over 70%) of cervical cancer. However, this vaccine has now been replaced by ‘Gardasil’ which has the advantage of also protecting against the 2 types of HPV that cause around 90% of genital warts. It offers the same protection against cervical cancer as Cervarix.
Who can get the vaccine?The HPV vaccine is recommended for all girls aged 12 to 13 who will be contacted by their school or local NHS when the vaccine is due.
How is the vaccine given?Three injections are given over a 6 month period in the upper arm. It is important to have all 3 doses to provide adequate protection.
What happens if I miss a dose?If you miss any of your doses then you can arrange to have another appointment which should be as soon as possible after your original one. If any doses are missed or delayed it is important to complete the course within 12 months, but it is never too late to catch up.
Are there any side effects to the vaccine?The most common side effects are very mild and usually involve swelling, redness and pain at the site of injection in the upper arm and headaches. Less commonly there may be sickness, dizziness, diarrhoea, raised temperature and muscle aches. These usually settle in a couple of daysand are also mild. Very rarely, an allergic reaction can occur soon after the vaccination which may cause a rash or itching. Even more rarely, people can have a severe reaction called anaphylaxis which can cause breathing difficulty and collapse. Fortunately, this is extremely rare and can be treated by the nurse or doctor giving the vaccine.
Should I still have the vaccine if I’ve already had sex?Yes. You should still have the vaccine if you have already had sex and are in the relevant age group as it may still protect you..
Will I still need to have smear tests (cervical screening) when I’m older?Yes. The vaccine does not protect you against all the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer so it is very important that you have regular smears from age 20, whether you have the vaccine or not.
Will the vaccine protect me from other sexually transmitted infections?No. The vaccine does not provide any protection against other sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia and it is therefore important to continue to protect yourself from these by using condoms.
Will the vaccine protect me from genital warts?Gardasil provides protection from the 2 types of HPV that cause around 90% of genital warts. This means that the chance of getting genital warts will be greatly reduced.
Do genital warts increase your risk of cervical cancer?No, this is unlikely. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are different to the types that cause cervical cancer.
How long will the vaccine protect me from HPV?It is not yet known how long the vaccine will provide protection. Research is on-going and you will be informed if any further doses are needed at a later date.