Vaccinations

Cervical cancer vaccine

All girls aged 12 to 13 are offered HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. The vaccine protects against cervical cancer. It's usually given to girls in year eight at schools in England.

According to Cancer Research UK, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women under the age of 35. In the UK, 2,900 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer, that's around eight women every day.

Around 970 women died from cervical cancer in 2011 in the UK. It's estimated that about 400 lives could be saved every year in the UK as a result of vaccinating girls before they are infected with HPV.

The HPV vaccine is delivered largely through secondary schools, and consists of three injections over a period of 12 months.

Research has shown that the HPV vaccine provides effective protection for at least eight years after completion of the three-dose course. It is not known yet how long protection will last beyond this time.

What is HPV?

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name given to a family of viruses.

Different types of HPV are classed as either high-risk or low-risk, depending on the conditions they can cause. For instance, some types of HPV can cause warts or verrucas. Other types are associated with cervical cancer.

In 99% of cases, cervical cancer occurs as a result of a history of infection with high-risk types of HPV. Often, infection with the HPV causes no symptoms. 

How is HPV infection spread?

The HPV virus is very common and is easily spread by sexual activity. As much as half the population will be infected at some time in their life. In most cases, the virus doesn't do any harm because your immune system gets rid of the infection. But in some cases, the infection persists and can lead to health problems.

Although most girls don't start having sex until after they're 16 years of age, it's important that they get this protection early enough and a good time is in the teenage years - getting the vaccine as early as possible will protect them in the future.

Using a condom during sex can help to prevent HPV infection. However, as condoms do not cover the entire genital area and are often put on after sexual contact has begun, a condom is no guarantee against the spread of HPV.

Different types of HPV and what they do

There are over 100 different types of HPV, with around 40 types that affect the genital area.

Infection with some high-risk types of HPV can cause abnormal tissue growth as well as other cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer.

Infection with other types of HPV may cause:

For more information see Why is the HPV vaccine needed?

How the HPV vaccine helps

A vaccine called Gardasil vaccine is used in the national NHS cervical cancer vaccination programme. Gardasil protects against the two types of HPV responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers in the UK.

A bonus of using Gardasil to prevent cervical cancer is that it prevents genital warts too.

Current research suggests the HPV vaccine is protective for at least seven years.

Which girls should have the HPV vaccination?

The HPV vaccine is part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme and is routinely offered to secondary school girls aged 12 and 13.

It's a safe vaccine and there are very few girls who aren't suitable for HPV vaccination. However, special precautions may need to be taken if the girl being vaccinated has certain health conditions, or has ever had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

Read more about who should have the HPV vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is given as a series of three injections within a 12-month period.

Learn more about how the HPV vaccine is given.

Cervical screening and the HPV vaccine

Cervical screening is a way of picking up abnormal cells in the cervix before they progress to cancer. It's been shown that early detection and treatment of cervical abnormalities picked up by screening can prevent three-quarters of cervical cancers.

The NHS cervical screening programme involves checking women between the ages of 25 and 64 every three to five years for early cervical abnormalities.

Regular cervical screening is the best way to identify abnormal cell changes in the cervix. So it's important that all girls who receive the HPV vaccine also have regular cervical screening once they reach the age of 25.

Now, read why it's so important for 12-13 year-old girls to receive the HPV vaccination and find out more about the safety of the HPV vaccine.


Page last reviewed: 13/08/2012

Next review due: 13/08/2014

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The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 02 April 2014

Dear JuneBuxton123,

I’m sorry to hear of your experience with HPV vaccination.
It sounds like you weren’t told much about the vaccine beforehand and this can lead to worry and confusion later.

You’re right that girls and their parents should find out as much as possible about the HPV vaccination before they have it. All girls are supposed to receive a leaflet about HPV vaccination from their school or GP. This is an example of the type of leaflet: http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/vaccinations/Documents/HPV.pdf

It’s also a good idea to read about the vaccine on websites like this.

Try not to worry that you now have HPV infection. The vaccine can’t prevent all cases of HPV (only about four in five of them) but HPV doesn’t automatically progress to cervical cancer and, even when it does, it can take up to 20 years to do so.

Make sure you look after yourself by attending cervical screening when you become eligible for the programme.

I’ll also be extending our content to include information on what happens for those who develop HPV after vaccination.

Thanks and best wishes,
Kathryn, NHS Choices editor

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JuneBuxton123 said on 24 March 2014

I had the HPV vaccination when i was in year 8. i had a course of 3 needles which were easy and painless and we were more or less told this would prevent us ever getting HPV. i didnt know what the vaccination was for at the time i was told it was for cervical cancer, only later was i told that it was in fact a HPV vaccination and i hadnt even heard of it so i didnt ask questions. that was 4 years ago or so. last week i noticed problems down below and with me being sexually active i went straight to my sexual health clinic and was told i had HPV. that was 2 days ago, i got told all about HPV but they spared to tell me anything to do with cancer, through my own research i found tons of evidence that HPV can in fact lead to cervical cancer, oral cancer, head cancer and neck cancer and im sure various other ones but cant think from the top of my head. i am 17 and was not offered a cervical screening due to my age (which i find absolutely disgusting) i checked the symptoms and i have around 7 symptoms so would consider all of this a massive shock. i am going through treatment over the next 4 month which is very painful, degrading and uncomfortable. i didnt know anything about this virous, what my vaccinations were for or what this virus could lead on to. i am going to my GP to ask advice on cervical cancer as i am at moderate risk. Teach these girls what youre putting into their bodies, let them know exactly what it is for and dont pretend this will 100% prevent it. these girls need to be prepared for things like this and i had no knowledge of it what so ever. No this vaccination does not prevent HPV and yes you can get cervical cancer but i and many other girls were never told this. remember the young girls who are getting the vaccinations are 12-13 mostly, they wont know anything about it. girls be careful with yourselfs, please dont make the mistakes i made...and mothers keep your girls safe and make sure they know all about HPV and cervical cancer. x

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 24 March 2014

Dear Teenagehealthfreak,

Please see your GP for a review. Your symptoms may or may not be related to your immunisations. It's important for your GP to assess them further.

Kathryn, NHS Choices editor

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Teenagehealthfreak said on 24 February 2014

I am in year 9 at school now but did have the HPV jab. The first one was quite painful but the other two weren't nearly as bad. However, I have read up on the side effects and my symptom doesn't seem to be on there.

In 2 months time, I will have had my third jab exactly a year ago, and though the pain from raising my arm, the stinging and the bleeding have gone, sometimes I still get an achy pain in the spot where I had two of the jabs. It's kind of short and sharp and it only lasts a second, but is quite painful. The side effects are only supposed to last a week but a year later my arm is still very tender and achy. Can someone help me and tell me what's going on as I don't think this is normal.

I also can't scratch my arm where the jab is as it aches for ages afterwards and is extremely painful. Is this normal, and if not can somebody explain my symptoms?

Teenagehealthfreak xx

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Mrs Halliday said on 14 May 2013

I requested this information from Cancer Research and their response is below:

1. Please supply figures for the number of females who were diagnosed with Cervical Cancer, in the UK, which was attributed to the HPV strains 16 and 18 between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2012.

2. Please supply figures for the number of females who were diagnosed with Cervical Cancer, in the UK, which was attributed to the HPV strains 16 and 18 between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2012 and who
subsequently died from those strains.

REPLY:

“Unfortunately there are no routinely available sources of information on the HPV status of cervical cancer cases in the UK, although this should be available in future.

Therefore the information you requested does not exist for the period you are interested in, as applied to the whole UK population.

However, various research studies have been conducted, which point to around 70% of cervical cancer cases being caused by HPV 16 or 18. "

Statistical Information Team
Cancer Research UK

I would point out that the last paragraph does not state if this applies to the UK as a whole, world wide, or third world countries. Nor does it state the ages.

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Steve CA7 said on 17 February 2013

Recent press coverage of the HPV vaccine
(above article). This article refers to my daughter. Although the Paediatric Consultant first thought that she had extreme/severe CFS/ME she never made a confirmed diagnosis. Also I am not aware of a single CFS/ME patient that remained in a constant coma-like sleep for 13 weeks. The MHRA has not kept this case under close review as far as we are aware. One Paediatric Consultants has committed in writing the following statement: “IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE IT WILL TURN OUT TO BE A REACTION TO THE HPV VACCINE”. Our GP following a conversation with another Paediatric Consultant has recorded “SHE THINKS IT HAS NOT BEEN ME BUT A REACTION TO THE INJECTION”.
The Department of Health and NHS insist it is totally coincidental with the HPV vaccine even though the cause of the illness is a total mystery and despite the fact that my wife was called to collect our daughter from school immediately after the vaccine was given because she was unwell. There is a complete medical history of deterioration from that morning.

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Cervical cancer vaccination

A group of teenage girls and a GP explain how the HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of cervical cancer. The Gardasil vaccine is used in the national vaccination programme.

Media last reviewed: 16/01/2012

Next review due: 16/01/2014

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