Cervical cancer develops in the cervix – the low, narrow mouth of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina. The Cervix protects your uterus. Cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted primarily through sexual activity.
- Up to 80% of sexually active women will acquire an HPV infection at some point in their lives.
- Of these infections up to 38.6% will be from Oncogenic HPV types (cancer causing).
- Persistent infection with oncogenic HPV types may lead to cervical cancer.
- Globally 70% of all cervical cancer is caused by HPV 18 and 18.
- Intimate/genital contact spreads this very common virus
- Women of all ages need long term protection from cancer causing HPV infections.
The potential of vaccination
The most effective means of addressing cervical cancer is prevention; and vaccination against the most common cancer causing HPV types 16 and 18 is now available. It has been estimated that alongside regular screening, this could reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer by up to 94%, compared to no intervention.
Duration of protection
It is important to ensure that the immune response induced by vaccination is consistently strong (indicated by high levels of antibodies) and long lasting. This duration of protection is particularly important when vaccinating young girls, to ensure that they remain fully protected, without the need for boosters, when they are aged between 15-25 years, the period of peak exposure to HPV. In addition, vaccines against HPV should provide long-term protection for all women, as they remain vulnerable to HPV throughout their lives.
When to vaccinate
Girls and women over the age of 9 can be vaccinated. HPV vaccination is recommended before a first sexual encounter, however nearly all women could benefit from the vaccine because:
- A woman can be exposed to the virus at any point in her life.
- Even if a woman has already been exposed to HPV, prior infection does not reliably protect women against subsequent infections.
- Data shows that as a woman age, cancer-causing HPV infection is more likely to become persistent, and potentially lead to development of pre-cancerous lesions and cervical cancer.