Facts About the Cervical Cancer Vaccine
An immunization has just become available that can prevent cervical cancer in young women. The vaccine protects girls from the age of 12 from catching the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) when they become sexually active. This virus infects the cells of the cervix and causes changes that can lead to cancer. This happens over a period of years but, if a girl becomes infected in her late teens, she can develop cervical cancer in her late 20s and early 30s. If caught early, the cancer can be treated quite effectively but if it is not diagnosed until at a fairly late stage, it can be fatal. The celebrity Jade Goody died of cervical cancer in her late 20s in 2009.
The HPV Cancer LinkHPV is a common virus that causes genital warts. It is transmitted from person to person during sex. In men, it simply causes genital warts but it women it can also have more serious effects on the cervix, causing the cells to grow abnormally. This is more likely to happen with specific strains of HPV that are known to be associated with cancer. Regular smear tests pick up the pre-cancerous changes that HPV causes but these are routinely done in women over 25 – and the damage can be done long before that if a teenage girl contracts HPV.
The Cervical Cancer VaccinesGenerally it is easier to produce effective vaccines against viruses than bacteria or parasites but this is the first time that a vaccine against an infectious virus has been developed to prevent cancer. It is therefore quite a unique vaccine. Two types of vaccines are available, from two different manufacturers; Gardasil and Cervarix. In the UK, the government has chosen Cervarix and this has now been used to vaccinate all girls in their early teens, through a national school-based immunisation programme.
The cervical cancer vaccine is given in three doses, the second one a month after the first and the third one 6 months later. It is now being given to all girls up to the age of 18. Immunity to the HPV virus prevents it infecting the cells of the cervix and prevents it causing pre-cancerous changes.