Human papilloma Virus (HPV) is the name given to a very common group of viruses, with over 100 different types. These can be divided into so called low risk or high risk types – with high risk types being associated with cancer, and low risk types causing warts and verrucas. The most well known link is with cervical cancer - in 99% of cases, cervical cancer occurs as a result of a history of infection with high risk types of HPV. With cervical cancer as the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women worldwide, it was clearly an important breakthrough to develop a vaccine against HPV which can save many lives. There are also links between high risk HPV infection with other less common cancers such as mouth & oropharyngeal cancers, vaginal & vulval cancers, penile cancer and anal cancer.
It is thought that around half the population will be infected with HPV at some time in their life, though in most cases the virus does no harm as the immune system clears the infection – it is when the virus persists that it can cause problems. It is easily spread through sexual activity.
There is an HPV vaccine called Gardasil which protects against HPV types 16 & 18 which cause 70% of cervical cancer and the majority of other HPV associated cancers, and also types 9 & 26 which cause 90% of genital warts. Gardasil is a safe, highly effective vaccination, licenced for boys and girls from aged 9 years. Common side effects are pain/redness at the injection site, fever and headaches. It is a course of either 2 or 3 injections over a 6 month period.
Gardasil is part of the NHS immunisation schedule for girls aged 12-13 years. If the vaccination is missed girls can have the vaccine on the NHS up to the age of 18 years, or privately if older. It is still important for women to continue with regular cervical smears whether they are vaccinated or not.
Notably in the USA Gardasil is also recommended for boys aged 9 – 26 years. Currently in the UK, Gardasil is only available privately to boys and men. There have been calls for this to be changed, as HPV is linked to several types of cancers that effect men too, with vaccination also preventing genital warts, and protecting their partners from the associated risks.
A full range of vaccinations including Gardasil are available at The Private GP Clinic, Sevenoaks – please do not hesitate to call if you have any questions or would like to book an appointment: 01732 835212