Since September 2008 there has been a national programme to vaccinate girls aged 12-13 against human papilloma virus (HPV). There is also a three-year catch up campaign that will offer the HPV vaccine (also known as the cervical cancer jab) to 13-18 year old girls.
The programme is delivered largely through secondary schools, and consists of three injections that are given over a six-month period. In the UK, more than 1.4 million doses have been given since the vaccination programme started.
What is Human papilloma virus (HPV)?
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name of a family of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes that line your body, such as those in your cervix, anus, mouth and throat. These membranes are called the mucosa.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV viruses, with about 40 types affecting the genital area. These are classed as high risk and low risk.
How you get HPV?
Types of HPV that affect the skin can be passed on by skin contact with an affected person. The types of HPV that affect the mouth and throat can be passed on through kissing. Genital HPV is usually spread through intimate, skin to skin, contact during sex. You can have the genital HPV virus for years and not have any sign of it.
How HPV can cause cervical cancer?
Most HPV infections are harmless or cause genital warts, however some types can cause cervical cancer. Most HPV infections clear up by themselves, but in some people the infection can last a long time. HPV infects the cells of the surface of the cervix where it can stay for many years without you knowing.
The HPV virus can damage these cells leading to changes in their appearance. Over time, these changes can develop into cervical cancer. The purpose of cervical screening (testing) is to detect these changes, which, if picked up early enough, can be treated to prevent cancer happening. If they are left untreated, cancer can develop and may lead to serious illness and death.