You may have seen ads for a new programme of anti-cancer vaccinations available this autumn and wondered - what does this mean for my family?
Since Jade Goody's diagnosis with cervical cancer, the number of women having smear tests has risen substantially. But for younger girls, cervical cancer can also be prevented by the HPV vaccine. And if you have a daughter aged 12 or over, she should be offered the vaccination this autumn.
Department of Health is planning to give the jab to girls aged 12-18 from this autumn as part of the NHS national vaccination programme.
So what is the HPV vaccination, how will my daughter be given it and is it safe?
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. Infection by HPV is common and at least half of all sexually active women are infected by a strain of genital HPV in their lifetimes. HPV is transmitted through intimate sexual contact including, but not limited to, sexual intercourse. Studies show that many people get HPV within their first two to three years of becoming sexually active.
How can HPV lead to cervical cancer?
Most infections clear by themselves, but in some people the infection can persist. Although HPV infection is usually symptom free, it can damage the lining of the cervix. Persistent infection can cause abnormalities of the cervix, which, if left undetected and untreated, can cause cervical cancer. Two particular strains of HPV, types 16 & 18, cause over 70 of cases of cervical cancer in the UK. Three doses of the vaccine are required over a period of around six months. HPV is sexually transmitted, so the vaccine is most effective when given before girls are sexually active.
Is the vaccine safe?
The vaccine has passed the rigorous safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. In the first year of the HPV vaccination programme well over a million doses of the HPV vaccine have been administered to girls and young women across England. Like most other vaccinations, the side effects of the HPV vaccination are usually quite mild. Stinging and soreness in the arm is common but wears off. More serious side effects are extremely rare and the nurses giving the vaccination know how to treat them.
Who is eligible and how will it be given?
Over the next two years, the HPV vaccine will be given to most girls and young women aged 12-18. Your daughter's school, college or local NHS will provide more information before the vaccination is due. If your daughter was offered the vaccination last year, but missed it, contact your local NHS to see if it is still possible for her to have it.
Girls aged 12-16 will need to have a consent form signed by their parent/ guardian, giving permission for the vaccination to be given. Girls aged 16 or older will be able to consent to having the vaccine without parental permission
Where can you and your daughter find more information?
Further information, including fact sheets and leaflets is available at this link. There's also a dedicated NHS Direct information line you can call on 0845 602 3303.
Does this mean an end to cervical screening?
No. Because the vaccine does not protect your daughter against all types of the virus that cause cervical cancer, it is essential that your daughter has smear tests (cervical screening that picks up early signs of changes in the cervix) when she is older (25 and older England).