HPV Vaccine (Human Papilloma Virus)

A small but significant number of HPV infections progress to cervical cancer.

Expert Advice

Cervical cancer is the eleventh most common cause of cancer death in women in the UK, compared with third world countries where it is one of the most common killers. It accounts for around 2% of all female cancers in the UK. The exact cause of cervical cancer is not known, but it is a well known fact that certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV) are linked with around 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. HPV is a common infection seen in women. Most women will have one HPV infection at some time in their lives. These infections are usually transient and do not cause any problems. A small but significant number of HPV infections progress to cervical cancer. The viruses that are linked with cervical cancer are known as high risk types. There are 15 different types of viruses. Out of these 5 types; 16, 18, 31, 33 and 45 will identify most of the cancer cases worldwide. However in America, Australia and Europe, Type 16 and 18 emerge as the most frequently identifiable viruses causing invasive cervical cancers.

70% of new HPV infections occur between the ages of 15 and 24.  Most of them are transient and have no significance.  The high risk subtypes 16 and 18 cause 70% of all cervical cancers, the same high risk subtype virus can also cause vulvar, vaginal, anal and penile cancers, although cervical cancer is much more common than anal and penile cancer in men.  There are certain less virulent, low risk types of HPV namely Type 6 and 11, which are associated with low grade cervical abnormalities and 90% of genital warts and laryngeal infection.  Genital warts are contagious.  About two thirds of people who have sexual contact with a partner with genital warts will develop warts within three month's of contact.

It is therefore very important to protect young girls prior to being sexually active or even if they are sexually active but HPV negative.  There are new vaccines available which are called HPV vaccines of which there are two types available; one is called Gardasil which protects against four different subtypes of viruses, namely 6, 11, 16 and 18.  It will therefore protect not only against cervical cancer and other high grade abnormalities, but also against genital warts.  There is another vaccine available which protects only against cervical cancer due to Type 16 and 18.  However it does not prevent genital warts, which are caused  by HPV 6 and 11.  At the Women's Wellness Centre we provide Gardasil vaccine which thereby protects against four viruses; 6, 11, 16 and 18.  The vaccine consists of three doses at zero, two and six months. The vaccine is usually administered by a qualified medical person on the non-dominant arm.  The side effects are very mild flu like symptoms such as muscle ache, joint pains and they usually subside within a couple of days.The vaccine is recommended between the ages of 15 and 26 but there are no contraindications for women requesting to have the vaccines even after the age of 26 or below the age of 15.  This vaccine was launched a few years ago and has today become very popular.  A growing number of young people along with their parents are approaching the providers to have the vaccine.

Sheela Purkayastha
FRCOG,MD,FFFP
Consultant Gynaecologist

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