Information on HPV in women
Human papillomavirus (HPV) can affect anyone. About 80% men and women who have had sex have been infected by the virus at some point in their life.
HPV can cause warts on the inside or outside of the penis, female genitals or anus.
It can also cause pre-cancerous conditions of the penis, female genital area, anus, mouth or throat. These are changes that might lead to cancer in the future if left untreated.
There are over 100 different types of human papillomavirus. Gardasil 9 is the name of the HPV vaccine that protects against the most types.
How effective is the HPV vaccine?
If you have never had sex, Gardasil 9 can prevent up to 90% of genital warts and 89% of cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, or cervix. There is also some evidence that it can help prevent some cancers of the penis, mouth and throat, particularly so if you engage in oral sex.
If you are between cervical smear tests or already sexually active, you can also help to protect yourself by getting vaccinated with Gardisil 9. This can still reduce your chances of getting any of these conditions as it may provide cover against an HPV strain you have still not been exposed to yet.
Why women could benefit from the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine can help protect against high-risk strains of HPV which can cause genital warts, as well as cell abnormalities which can cause certain cancers. Gardasil, which is offered as part of the National Immunisation Programme (NIP),protects against strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. Gardasil 9 (which we offer at Online Doctor) protects against these four strains, plus five more high risk strains.
Strains 16 and 18 are the most commonly linked with cervical cancer, and the vaccine has been proved to be over 99% effective at preventing the pre-cancerous cells caused by these strains.
Initially the vaccine was given just to girls in Year 8. Since the vaccine programme begun, it’s been proved to have caused a 90% drop in the number of genital warts cases amongst 15-17 year old girls (who would have been vaccinated at school), and 70% in boys the same age. So the boys are also benefitting from the herd immunity of the girls being vaccinated. Since 2019 boys in Year 8 are also now offered the vaccine, so the cases of genital warts in boys are likely to go down even further.
Find out more about why men could benefit from the HPV vaccine.
Benefits of the HPV vaccine for girls
The HPV vaccine works best if it’s given before a girl (or boy) is sexually active. This is because HPV is such a common infection, as many as eight in 10 of us will have it in our lives, and it’s passed through sexual contact. So they’re less likely to have had contact with HPV if they haven’t been sexually active yet.
Girls getting the HPV vaccine will protect them against cancers associated with HPV (e.g. cervical cancer, vaginal, vulval and anal cancers). It will also give them some protection against genital warts.
Potential side effects of the HPV vaccine in women
Like with all vaccinations, some people will experience side effects after getting it. Common side effects include:
- Redness, swelling or ache where you had the injection
Neither of these effects should last that long, and should pass within a couple of days.
Some less than one in 10 people will experience:
- Itchiness or bruising where you had the injection
- High temperature, feeling hot and shivery
- Pain in the arms, hands, fingers, legs or toes
A very small amount of people (lees than 1 in 1000) might experience hives. And even less than that (1 in 10000) might experience difficulty breathing or problems with their airways.
What age can a girl get the HPV vaccine?
Girls can get the HPV vaccine in school when they’re aged 12-13 as part of the NIP. Girls and women aged up to 25 who missed the vaccine at school can get the vaccine as part of this programme.
If you don’t qualify for the NIP or would like to pay for Gardasil 9 as opposed to the Gardasil vaccine offered on the NIP, females aged 12-45 can get Gardasil 9 from a local LloydsPharmacy. Or females aged 18+ can request a HPV vaccine online from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
As mentioned above it’s best to get the vaccine before you’re sexually active, but you can get it at any stage. The vaccine won’t fight off any HPV already in your system, but it will protect you against HPV you come into contact with, in the future.
Find out more about the age to get the HPV vaccine.