I've said this before and I will say it again: CERVICAL CANCER IS PREVENTABLE! I've explained the screening process and the various types of treatments available for abnormal cells so far and today I’m going to focus on vaccinations to protect women from cervical cancer.
Some cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is also sometimes known as genital warts or the wart virus. There are over one hundred different types of HPV and some cause genital warts. Lots of types of HPV are passed on through sexual contact and most women will be affected by HPV at some point. Most of the time the virus will just go away with no treatment but some types can increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. HPV types sixteen and eighteen cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases, which is roughly about 7/10 and most of the other 30% are caused by other high risk types of HPV.
Extensive research into HPV has been done over the years and two cervical cancer vaccines have been created. These are celled Gardasil and Cervarix. Research is on-going into these vaccines and their effects will become clearer as time goes on but here is some information on the two vaccines:
Trials have been done with Gardasil, using women between the ages of sixteen and twenty six. Some were given the vaccine and some were given placebos. They were all monitored to see if they went on to develop HPV. Research has shown that Gardasil protects against some types of HPV including types sixteen and eighteen. Since then Gardasil has been given a licence in the UK and can be used on young girls and women between the ages of nine and twenty six.
Cervarix has also gone through rigorous trials involving women under the age of twenty six. They discovered that Cervarix can prevent HPV. It has also been licenced for use in the UK and is used to prevent pre cancerous cervical changes in women between the ages of ten and twenty five.
UK schoolgirls aged between twelve and thirteen (year eight at secondary school are currently being offered the Cervarix vaccine as part of the HPV vaccination programme. This involved the girls having three injections over a six month period. Their parents have to sign a consent form before their daughter can have the vaccinations and they should discuss the vaccine with their daughter so she can decide whether or not she would like it. From September 2012 the vaccination programme will switch to the Gardasil vaccine as this protects them against genital warts as well as cervical cancer. It is also possible to have the vaccination done privately should you wish to do so.
The vaccines are given to twelve year olds because they are unlikely to have already become sexually active and caught HPV. Research has shown that the vaccine works best in younger women. You can still have the vaccine if you are already sexually active; it wont get rid of HPV if you already have it but it can protect you from developing other types of the infection. It may be worth having if the type you have isn’t type sixteen or eighteen as these are the two that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. It is vital to have all three injections to make sure you are properly vaccinated.
Side effects of the vaccine are usually very mild but they can include:
Headaches and aching muscles, dizziness, fever, diarrhoea stomach pains and itching and soreness around the injection area.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT YOU STILL NEED TO HAVE REGULAR SMEAR TESTS WHEN YOU REACH THE MINIMUM AGE REQUIRED. WHILST A VACCINE WILL HELP PROTECT YOU, SCREENING IS STILL NEEDED!!
If you are interested in having a cervical cancer vaccination – please contact your GP or Jo’s Trust.