A vaccine doesn’t mean immunity

According to a new study released today, women who have received the HPV vaccine could only need three smear tests in their lifetime.

At The Eve Appeal  we’re pleased to see another advancement being made in the world of cancer screening, as prevention rather than cure of the five gynaecological cancers is at the very heart of our mission.

The UK’s cervical screening programme saves thousands of lives every year, by detecting abnormal cells in the cervix through cervical screening (a smear test), and treating the abnormalities before they potentially develop into cervical cancer. This is why it’s vital that women attend their appointments and why we need to raise as much awareness as possible for this largely preventable disease.

There are over 100 different strands of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and it is passed on through skin to skin sexual contact. Types 16 and 18 cause around 70% of cervical cancers, with Gardasil, the current HPV vaccine, preventing against types 16, 18 and additionally 6 and 11 which cause 90% of all cases of genital warts. In England, the vaccination is currently offered to girls aged 12 to 13, as it is most effective in those who have not yet come into contact with the virus, i.e. not sexually active.

Whilst the rates of ‘high-risk’ HPV have decreased dramatically since the vaccine became available in 2008, the fact remains that there is no current protection against the eleven strands of HPV that cause the remaining 30% (approx.) of cervical cancers. Whilst it provides protection against the most likely causes of cervical abnormalities (HPV 16 and 18), it’s incredibly important that women who have had the vaccine do not think that they are immune from cervical cancer.

Vaccinated women are indeed at a lower risk of receiving an ‘abnormal’ smear test result, but it is still crucial that they attend their appointments, even if it does end up being just three in their lifetime.

HPV causes over 99% of cervical cancers, but not quite 100%. There are a small number of women who receive their cancer diagnosis and are HPV negative. So again, whilst it is unlikely, it is not impossible to have had the HPV vaccine and still go on to develop cervical cancer.

There is still a lot more that we need to write about with regards to HPV, so watch this space for more short blog posts!

In conclusion for the time being, the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine against the most common high-risk strands is fantastic, as is the uptake of girls receiving the vaccine. However, having the vaccine does not mean you are immune to cervical cancer, so please stay on top of your cervical screening appointments and familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. Let’s look after ourselves as best as we possibly can.