Sexual Health Tuesday November 8, 2011

Learning more about HPV, cervical cancer and vaccines

The number of women in their 20s being diagnosed with cervical cancer has increased, according to research presented by the National Cancer Research Institute. This has highlighted the need for young women and girls to get vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV), strains of which can cause cervical cancer in women.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world and is believed to affect 80% of the world’s population. However, receiving the HPV vaccine before contracting any of the HPV viruses can reduce the risk of you doing so later in life. Although most people who become infected with HPV are able to effectively fight the virus without ever becoming ill, it’s still "linked to 99.7% of cases of cervical cancer", according to the charity Jo’s Trust.

However, the vaccine itself is not without its critics and many people are warning that is has the potential to cause serious side effects (though these claims have largely been debunked) and, in the US in particular, that it may promote promiscuity among young girls, despite the fact that it doesn’t provide protection against any other STIs.

There is also the issue of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine used in the US, not being available in the UK because of NHS budgetary restraints, although it can still be requested privately. Cervarix, the NHS vaccine is currently only free for girls between the ages of 12 and 13, but there are those that believe that it would also be beneficial to offer it to young boys as well, as this could help to stop the spread of HPV.

Older women have the option to request the HPV vaccine privately, but as the vaccine is not a cure for HPV, it might not be helpful if you already have a strain of the virus. This is why it’s a good idea to go for regular cervical screenings, as early detection is incredibly important to help provide timely treatment. If you are unsure about when you should go for a screening or whether you should consider a vaccine, Jo’s Cancer Trust charity is a helpful hub for information about cervical cancer.

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