Article Date: 16th February 2016
So, you’re 12 and you don’t know much about cervical cancer but you’ve heard rumours and you know you’ve got to take some jab. It’s all very confusing and sometimes it can feel like you can’t ask anyone. I mean, it’s not something you feel you can ask your mum or dad about*cringe*.
Well, don’t worry; we’re here to help so let’s start with the basics:
What is cervical cancer?
Without going too scientific on your brains (because you have to deal with that at school already) Cervical Cancer is a type of cancer that targets the cervix in women (obviously - men don’t have a cervix). The cervix is the barrier to your womb and this is what dilates during and before childbirth to help the baby come out.
Just like with colds and flus, there are different types of viruses that can cause cervical cancer in women, although not all forms of cervical cancer are caused by viruses. The HPV virus in particular can cause changes in the cervix that can lead to cancer (HPV stands for the Human Papilloma Virus, in case you wanted to tell your friends and sound all smart ;)) and this virus is nasty as it causes almost 100% of cervical cancers to develop in women.
So far, we have discovered 100 different types of HPV!
Why do I need a vaccine?
Well, if you want to dramatically reduce the risk of cervical cancer caused by HPV then having a vaccine is the easiest way to do that. I mean, cancer affects millions of people a year and in the UK, around 3060 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer a year.
There are forms of Genital Warts that are caused by a HPV virus but these rarely cause cancer. Regardless, it’s important to make sure that if you are sexually active, you are protected as no one wants to get any form of STI.
Who can have the vaccine?
Pre-teen girls and boys can have the vaccine. It’s important to get it done before you are sexually active as the HPV virus can be passed on through sexual contact. So, if you are 12 or above, now’s the right time!
What is in the vaccine and are there any side-effects?
The vaccine itself is completely safe and does not contain the HPV virus, but rather something that looks similar to it so your body can produce fighting agents called antibodies. This means if you are ever infected with it, your body can re-make these antibodies and fight the virus off.
There can be some mild effects to having the vaccine such as headache, dizziness, feeling sick, stomach pain and a rash but these are all mild and will disappear soon after. If symptoms do continue, tell your doctor about it, but the side effects are so mild and well worth it in the long term!
What do I need to do next?
Your parents should have received a letter in the post from your doctors. Ask them – don’t be shy. After all they want what’s best for you! All you need to do is make an appointment at your GP surgery and a nurse will give you the vaccine. It comes in 2 parts, and you can take the second part 6 to 12 months after the first.
What if I miss the vaccine?
Don’t worry! Call your GP practice and they will give you another appointment.
It’s important to talk about these things! Health is the most important thing so speak to your friends and parents and if you have any questions on the day or before, your doctor or nurse is always more than happy to help!
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