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Schoolgirls to Be Vaccinated Against Cervical Cancer

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Publication Date:29/10/2007

From next September all girls in the UK aged 12 to 13 (year Cool will be offered a vaccine against the virus that causes cervical cancer. Older girls aged 15 to 18 will also be offered the vaccine over the following two years as part of a 'catch-up' programme.

What causes cervical cancer?
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV for short). There are more than 100 different types of this virus. About 15 types are 'high risk' and can cause cervical cancer. Types 16 and 18 are the most common. They are responsible for 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer.

There are two vaccines against cervical cancer, called Gardasil and Cervarix. Both protect women against HPV types 16 and 18. But Gardasil also protects against two further types of HPV (6 and 11) which cause 90 percent of cases of genital warts.

The government has not yet decided which vaccine will be used in the programme. They will decide next year.

People catch the viruses that cause cervical cancer and genital warts during sexual intercourse and other sexual activity, such as oral sex. If you become infected with one of the high-risk types of HPV, your immune system will usually fight off the virus, in the same way that your body fights off a cold. But if the virus stays in your body it may start to cause changes in the cells of the cervix. Sometimes these can develop into cancer.

About 3,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. About 1,000 women die each year from the disease. The vaccination programme is expected to cut the numbers of women getting cervical cancer by more than 70 percent.

Tell me more about genital warts
Genital warts can grow on the skin in and around the vagina or penis. They can be soft and flesh-coloured or harder and irregular shaped. Genital warts don't usually cause symptoms but you might be upset about the way they look. They are usually easy to treat with creams, by freezing or with surgery.

Who will get the vaccine?
In England, Scotland and Wales all girls aged 12 to 13 will be offered the vaccine against cervical cancer from September 2008. They will receive three shots of the vaccine over six months. The vaccine is likely to be given at school, although some areas might decide to give the vaccine through GP surgeries or hospital clinics.

A catch-up vaccination programme will start the following year for older girls:

Girls aged 16 to 18 (school years 12 and 13) will be offered the vaccine from autumn 2009.
Girls aged 15 to 17 (school years 11 and 12) will be offered the vaccine from autumn 2010.
Northern Ireland has also said it will also be offering vaccination against cervical cancer, but the details have not yet been finalised.

Although boys can pass the virus on they will not receive the vaccine.

Why is the vaccine given at this age?
The vaccine is given at a young age because once you have had sex, there is a very high chance that you have been infected with HPV.

The vaccine works best in girls and women who have never been infected with HPV. That's why the government thinks it's best to vaccinate girls before they start having sex. We don't know if vaccination protects women who have had HPV in the past.

If you have been vaccinated, you can still be infected with other types of HPV, though other types of HPV are less common.

Will older women get the vaccine?
The Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI), which recommends the vaccines that should be given by the NHS, has said that it would not be cost-effective to give the vaccine to older women. This is because once sexual activity has started then women are at high risk of already having been infected with the virus that causes cervical cancer. It is important for older women to continue to have smears to check for cervical cancer.

How long does protection with the vaccine last?
So far we know that the vaccines offer protection against HPV types 16 and 18 for at least five years. Doctors will use the cervical screening programme (smear tests) to check how long it lasts after that.

What does this mean for me?
If you are the parent of a girl who will be in year 8 next September you will probably receive a letter some time next year telling you about the vaccination programme. If you have any questions you will be able to speak to your doctor, health visitor or school nurse closer to the time.

Where can I find out more?
To learn more see your local department of health website.

For England go to
For Scotland go to
For Wales go to
For Northern Ireland go to
© BMJ Publishing Group Limited ("BMJ Group") 2007. All rights reserved

This information does not replace medical advice. If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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replied October 24th, 2012
Another medical hoax.
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