Human papilloma viruses (HPV, HP viruses) play a decisive role in the development of cervical cancer. There is a vaccination against these sexually transmitted viruses . It is effective against the most common cancer-causing HP viruses, but does not provide completely safe protection against cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by infection with certain human papillomaviruses. HP viruses only occur in humans and affect cells of the skin and mucous membrane. Direct contact with infected skin or mucous membrane sites can lead to infection. Infection with HPV usually goes unnoticed, causes no symptoms and usually heals on its own. Rarely, however, it triggers a cancer after years to decades.
To date, more than 200 different types of HP viruses are known to exist. Some can trigger the formation of skin warts (papillomas). About 40 HPV types can cause infections of skin and mucous membrane cells in the genital area and are sexually transmitted. You don’t get infected through bodily fluids, but through (mucus) skin contact, often during sexual intercourse.
Because the viruses are very widespread, it is estimated that up to 90% of sexually active girls and women become infected.
In addition to vaccination, it is possible to prevent cervical cancer by regularly attending screening examinations. In most cases, dysplasia can be detected and, if necessary, treated.
What HPV vaccination protects against? Information on $CMS_IF( ! tt_headline.isEmpty)$$CMS_VALUE(tt_headline.toText(false).convert2)$$CMS_END_IF$
The HPV vaccination protects against the HP viruses that most frequently cause cervical cancer. Infection with these viruses can lead to the formation of tissue changes (dysplasia), which can develop into cancer. In addition, one of the vaccines can also protect against genital warts. Genital warts are often unpleasant, but harmless.
HPV vaccination can reduce the number of high-grade dysplasias (CIN 3), which are a precursor of cervical cancer. This suggests that the vaccination also protects against cervical cancer in the long term.
In Germany, the vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil 9 are available. Cervarix is only effective against HPV 16 and 18, which are responsible for about 60 to 70 % of all cervical cancers. The active ingredient does not provide protection against genital warts . Gardasil 9 protects against a total of 9 HP viruses, which are responsible for a total of about 75 to 90% of all cervical cancers. This vaccine also protects against genital warts .
The vaccination is not effective against pre-existing HPV infections or existing genital warts .
Who the vaccination is for? Information about $CMS_IF( ! tt_headline.isEmpty)$$CMS_VALUE(tt_headline.toText(false).convert2)$$CMS_END_IF$
The HPV vaccination is offered to girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14 years. The costs are covered by the statutory health insurance funds; some also cover costs beyond this age limit. A missed vaccination should be given no later than age 18. The vaccination can be given on the 20th birthday. To prevent infection with HPV during the first sexual contacts, it is recommended to complete the vaccination as early as possible.
For boys, the HPV vaccine should protect against penile and anal cancers, and the nine-drug vaccine should also protect against genital warts . These diseases are often caused by the same types of HPV that can cause genital warts and cervical cancer in both girls and women. In addition, vaccinated boys can no longer pass on the HP virus in question.
What happens during vaccination? Information about $CMS_IF( ! tt_headline.isEmpty)$$CMS_VALUE(tt_headline.toText(false).convert2)$$CMS_END_IF$
The vaccine is injected into the muscles of the upper arm. It does not contain replicable viruses, but proteins that correspond to the viral envelope. The vaccine cannot cause an infection, but still leads to a defense reaction: protective antibodies are formed.
Normally the vaccination consists of two injections at an interval of five months. If a second vaccination is given before the five months are up, then a third injection must be given after a few months. Three shots are necessary even if a teenager is over 14 years old at the time of the first shot.
How effective is the vaccination in girls and women?? Information about $CMS_IF( ! tt_headline.isEmpty)$$CMS_VALUE(tt_headline.toText(false).convert2)$$CMS_END_IF$
Studies show that the vaccination protects very well against infections with the HP viruses against which the respective vaccine is effective. As a result, dysplasia occurs less frequently and the risk of cervical cancer decreases.
If the vaccination protects in the long term, this would mean approximately the following according to projections:
- Without HPV vaccination: Around 30 out of every 1000 women would develop cervical cancer in the course of their lives – if they do not participate in early detection.
- With HPV vaccination, about 10 out of every 1,000 women would get cervical cancer in their lifetime – if they don’t participate in screening.
So the HPV vaccination could protect about 20 out of every 1000 women from cervical cancer.
Vaccination would also spare these women surgery. Because in the case of high-grade dysplasia, the risk of cervical cancer is so high that it is generally recommended to have it removed.
HPV vaccination also significantly reduces the incidence of genital warts.
The effectiveness of the vaccination depends on whether an HPV infection already exists. Less effective in adolescents who have already had sexual intercourse.
How long does the vaccination protection last? Information about $CMS_IF( ! tt_headline.isEmpty)$$CMS_VALUE(tt_headline.toText(false).convert2)$$CMS_END_IF$
It is currently unclear whether the vaccination protection is permanent or whether a booster vaccination will be necessary at some point in time. The previous studies with girls and women ran for a maximum of eight years. During this time, vaccination protection lasted. This suggests that the vaccination is effective in the long term. However, because uterine cancer usually develops over a period of years to decades, this question needs further investigation.
What are the side effects of vaccination? Information about $CMS_IF( ! tt_headline.isEmpty)$$CMS_VALUE(tt_headline.toText(false).convert2)$$CMS_END_IF$
No serious side effects have been shown in previous studies with girls and women. Transient skin reactions may occur at the injection site, such as pain (in 90 of 100 vaccinations), redness (30 of 100 vaccinations), and swelling (40 of 100 vaccinations). Rarely experience digestive symptoms, headache, fatigue, or muscle pain.
It is possible for adolescents to faint after a shot. For the HPV vaccination, it is therefore important to stay in the doctor’s office for about 15 minutes after the vaccine has been injected.
Vaccination should not be given if there is a fever or infection. If allergic reactions have occurred with the first shot, a second shot should not be given.
International authorities have been monitoring suspected side effects since HPV vaccines were approved. Since millions of girls and boys worldwide have been vaccinated in the meantime, it is to be expected on the basis of coincidence alone that more serious illnesses occur again and again after a vaccination. However, authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) see no evidence that such diseases, which occurred after vaccination, were actually caused by the vaccination.
How effective is the vaccination in boys and men?? Information about $CMS_IF( ! tt_headline.isEmpty)$$CMS_VALUE(tt_headline.toText(false).convert2)$$CMS_END_IF$
HPV vaccination effectively prevents genital ulcers and warts caused by HP viruses. This is what studies have shown. However, how well the vaccination prevents penile and anal cancer in the long term is not yet well established. The duration of the previous studies was too short for this. In addition, penile and anal cancers are very rare.