New research has shown that the HPV vaccine is cutting cervical cancer cases by almost 90%, but there are so many people who have missed out on the vaccine. We spoke to LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor about what people can do if they didn’t get the vaccine and other FAQs about HPV…
Groundbreaking research has shown that the HPV vaccine is cutting cases of cervical cancer by almost 90%. However, LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor have noted that many people have ‘slipped through the net’ when it comes to getting the vaccine.
Since 2008, the NHS has run a national HPV vaccination programme for girls aged 12 or 13 who are at school in the UK. Today, free vaccines are also offered to boys of the same age. As part of the school programme, girls and boys who went to school in the UK can get the HPV vaccine for free up to their 25th birthday if they missed the opportunity in school.
However, because the programme was only brought in during 2008, that means there are millions of women who have missed their chance to get vaccinated.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women around the world, killing more than 300,000 each year.
99% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV, but now, researchers are hopeful that vaccinations could almost eliminate the disease.
People with cervixes are currently invited for a smear test every three to five years from the time they turn 25. The smear test checks the health of your cervix and also checks for high risk types of HPV
Who can get the HPV vaccine?
For all of the people who were not offered a HPV vaccine when they were 12 or 13 in school, you might want to consider getting the vaccine.
People who went to school in the UK can get the HPV vaccine for free on the NHS up to their 25th birthday if they missed the opportunity in school.
Can I still get the vaccine if I’m over 25?
Yes. If you’re cis woman or cis man who has sex with women and you’re 25 or older, you’ll no longer be eligible for a free vaccine on the NHS. The good news is that the HPV vaccine is available on a private basis. You can get yours at your nearest LloydsPharmacy store if you make an order through Online Doctor.
Trans men, trans women, and men who have sex with men can still receive a free vaccine until they’re 45 if their risk of HPV is considered high.
Can I get the vaccine if I’m from overseas?
It can be really challenging for people who live overseas to get access to the HPV vaccine. As a result, LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor have seen a huge influx of students requesting the vaccine through their online service. The vast majority of these international students are Chinese, as the vaccine is relatively difficult to access in China. As the vaccine is administered in 3 doses over 6 months, the academic year gives plenty of time to fit in appointments for each dose.
What is HPV?
HPV (human papillomavirus) refers to a common type of virus which affects your skin and moist membranes lining parts of your body such as the mouth, throat and genital area like the cervix, vagina, penis and anus. There are around 100 different types of HPV, most are harmless, but certain types can cause genital warts and potentially lead to cervical cancer.
Is HPV an STI?
There is generally some confusion over whether HPV is actually an STI. Dr Gigi Taguri, Director of Medical Technology at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, explained:
“HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), as it is passed through skin-to-skin contact with the genital area, vaginal, anal or oral sex or sharing sex toys.
Certain strains of HPV can cause genital warts. Because the virus often stays in the skin, even once you treat the warts, they can come back. It’s possible that HPV can lay dormant for many years, therefore it’s not always a sign if someone has had sexual interaction with someone else.”
What are the symptoms of HPV?
‘‘HPV is usually symptomless,” Dr Taguri explained, “Most people won’t even know they have it and their bodies will fight it off on their own. For some people HPV might cause genital warts, for men this might mean small, flesh-coloured bumps on and around the penis, scrotum and/or anus. Women might get small flesh-coloured bumps on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, or around the anus.’’
How likely am I to get HPV?
Lots of people are likely to come into contact with HPV in their lifetime, in fact, according to Cancer Research UK as many as 8 out of 10 people will be infected at some point in their lives. However, as HPV is mostly symptomless, the majority of these people will not know they have it. Only a small percentage of people with HPV will develop genital warts.
Is there a cure?
Dr Gigi Taguri said: ‘‘There is no cure for HPV. Most people who have the virus, won’t even know they have it, and it will clear up on its own. It causes a usually symptomless infection, but in some cases, these can lead to warts or certain cancers.
“The HPV vaccine is designed to protect against the most high-risk strains of HPV, i.e. the ones that are most likely to cause certain cancers or genital warts.”
Does the HPV vaccine only protect against cervical cancer?
No, the HPV vaccine can also protect against anal, penile, throat and mouth cancers. It is thought that increasing rates of mouth cancers, in particular throat and tonsil, may be due to a greater proportion of cases being linked to HPV.
The strains 6 and 11 of the HPV virus are a common cause of genital warts, so the vaccine can also protect against this STI.
Are there any side effects to getting vaccinated?
Minor side effects can occur, similar to most other vaccinations. These side effects include redness, swelling or pain at the site of the injection, which usually settles within a couple of days. Others include bruising, fever, headaches, nausea and dizziness.
You can find out more information about the HPV vaccine on the Online Doctor website.
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Hettie is the editor and co-founder of DOSE. A keen runner, she’s also partial to a blast of high-intensity and hot yoga. A country girl at heart, she divides her time between London and the lush rolling hills of North Devon. When she’s not jetting off on her next adventure, Hettie can be found in a candle-lit alcove with a laptop, a spaniel and a full bodied Malbec.