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Exploring the Benefits of the HPV Vaccine Beyond Cervical Cancer Prevention

You might have heard the news that the NHS have recently set an ambitious goal to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040. They’ll achieve this with HPV vaccinations and by continuing to encourage women to have regular smear tests. However, the benefits of the HPV vaccine extend beyond cervical cancer prevention. Here, we’ll look at other potential positive effects of the vaccine, particularly in relation to reducing the risk of throat and mouth cancers.


What is the HPV Virus?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common group of viruses most commonly transmitted through sexual contact. Around 8 in 10 of us will have the virus at some point in our life, and while the majority of HPV infections won’t cause any symptoms and will go away on their own, they can trigger various cancers later in life.


Is HPV Only Linked to Cervical Cancer?

Contrary to popular belief, HPV isn't confined to triggering cancers of the cervix alone. It is also linked to cancers of the vagina, penis and anus, as well as the head and neck. Notably, HPV-related cancers of the throat and mouth in men are now more prevalent than new cases of cervical cancer in both the UK and the US.


What are Some Other Benefits of the HPV Vaccine?

While most research on HPV focuses on cervical cancer, the potential link between the vaccine and the prevention of throat and mouth cancers is gaining attention. Though research is ongoing, current indications are that the vaccine might play a crucial role in addressing these cancers.


How Effective is the HPV Vaccine?

With about 150 types of HPV, you can currently get a vaccine in the UK that helps to protect you against the virus types that cause nearly all cervical cancers. The vaccines have shown positive results: precancerous lesions picked up by smear tests are falling, and there are 20 per cent fewer new cases per year of cervical cancer than there were in the 1990s.

The vaccine is primarily targeted at 12 to 13-year-olds (before the age at which someone would typically become sexually active) and it is routinely offered to boys as well as girls, to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading. The vaccine can also benefit older people, offering protection against potential infections and reducing the likelihood of re-infection.


What are the Other Potential Benefits of the HPV vaccine?

As research into the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine continues, it is clear that positive effects can stretch beyond the realm of cervical cancer prevention. While the link between the vaccine and throat and mouth cancers is still being looked at, the progress made in reducing cervical cancer cases paints a promising picture. What’s evident is that those who have had the HPV vaccine (or are thinking about having it) can feel confident that it is helping them to stay protected from all HPV-related cancers.


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