The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine helps protect against cervical cancer, which is the most common cancer in women under 35.
It also helps protect women from rarer HPV-related cancers, such as anal & genital cancers and cancers of the head and neck.
Cervical cancer does not affect boys and men because they do not have a cervix but other cancers that can affect men – such as cancer of the anus, penis, head and neck are also linked to infection with HPV and vaccination can help prevent these.
HPV is the name given to a very common group of viruses.
There are many types of HPV, some of which are called "high risk" because they're linked to the development of cancers, such as cervical cancer, anal cancer, genital cancers and cancers of the head and neck.
Nearly all cervical cancers (99.7%) are caused by infection with a high-risk type of HPV.
However, only some of the anal and genital cancers, and cancers of the head and neck are caused by HPV infection. The rest of these cancers are caused by other risk factors like smoking and drinking alcohol.
HPV infections do not usually cause any symptoms, and most people will not know they're infected.
HPV is very common and can be caught through any kind of sexual contact with another person who already has it.
Most people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives, and their bodies will get rid of it naturally without treatment but some women infected with a high-risk type of HPV will not be able to clear it.
Over time, this can cause abnormal tissue growth as well as other changes in the cells of their cervix, which can lead to cervical cancer if not treated.
High-risk types of HPV are also linked to other types of cancer, including:
cancer of the penis
some cancers of the head and neck
Infection with other types of HPV may cause:
skin warts and verrucas
warts on the voice box or vocal cords (laryngeal papillomas)
The first dose of the HPV vaccine can be given to girls from age 12 and the second dose is normally offered 6 to 12 months after the first as part of the National HPV vaccination programme in Ireland
This programme will be extended to boys from the start of the 2019 irish school year.
It's important to have both doses of the vaccine to be fully protected.
Girls who start the HPV vaccination after the age of 15 will need 3 doses as they don't respond as well to 2 doses as younger girls do.
If you wish to have the vaccination outside of the schools programme you can do so privately.
The cost of the vaccine is €230 and you will require 3 doses.
Cervical cancer does not affect boys and men because they do not have a cervix but other cancers that can affect men – such as cancer of the anus, penis, head and neck – are also linked to infection with HPV types 16 and 18.
In addition, HPV types 6 and 11 are responsible for the majority of genital wart infections.
Vaccinating girls indirectly helps protect boys from these types of cancer and genital warts because vaccinated girls will not pass HPV on to them. This is known as "herd protection".
The latest version of the HPV vaccine available is Gardasil 9 which is the only vaccine that helps protect against certain cancers and diseases caused by 9 types of HPV (Types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58).
These 9 types are responsible for the majority of HPV-related cancers and diseases.
Further information on Gardasil 9 is available at the manufacturers website. Please click here
The HPV vaccine is currently given as a series of 2 injections into the upper arm.
They're spaced at least 6 months apart, It's important to have both vaccine doses to be protected.
Girls who get their first vaccination dose at the age of 15 or older will need to have 3 injections.
Men who have sex with men (MSM), and trans men and trans women who are eligible for the vaccine, will need 3 vaccination doses (2 if they're under 15).
For those who need 3 doses of the vaccine:
the second dose should be given at least 1 month after the first
the third dose should be given ideally within 12 months of the second dose
It's important to have all vaccine doses to be properly protected.
Studies have already shown that the vaccine protects against HPV infection for at least 10 years, although experts expect protection to last for much longer.
But because the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, it's important that all girls who receive the HPV vaccine also have regular cervical screening once they reach the age of 25.