Tuesday, September 5, 2017
This year, access to the free HPV vaccine was expanded and it is now available to all New Zealand residents aged 9 to 26.
However, you might have some questions about what HPV is, what protection the vaccine offers, and how it relates to cervical cancer.
WHAT IS HPV?
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus which can be passed from person to person through unprotected sex and skin-to-skin contact.
Both men and women can get HPV and some low-risk types of the virus can cause genital warts or warts on other parts of the body.
High-risk types of HPV can sometimes develop into cancer.
The HPV vaccine is not treatment for the HPV infection – it is something you get to protect yourself from getting HPV in the first place. This is why it is best to get the vaccine before you start having sex or any sexual contact.
HPV and cervical cancer
High-risk types of HPV can cause changes in your cervical cells, which can later develop into cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. If it’s not treated, cervical cancer can be serious and even fatal.
The best way to spot these abnormal cells is to get regular cervical screens.
WHAT IS CERVICAL screening?
Cervical screening tests the cells on the cervix to check they are healthy.
A nurse or doctor will gently take a sample of cells to be checked. These are sent to a lab for testing.
Screening is usually very fast and painless and you can have an STI test at the same time if you would like.
You can have your cervical screen at Family Planning, your local doctor, or at a health centre.
WHAT IS THE HPV VACCINE?
The HPV vaccine protects you against nine types of the virus that cause genital warts and some cancers including cervical cancer.
This vaccine is free for people under 27, so if you haven’t had the vaccine yet, go for it!
Many of our clinics also provide the HPV vaccine. Our nurses and doctors are professional and experienced and are there to help you.
“Are condoms enough to protect me from HPV?”
Condoms are great for preventing the spread of STIs, but they don’t always prevent HPV. HPV can also be passed through skin to skin contact, including oral sex.
Getting the HPV vaccine is the very best way to protect yourself against the infection.
“Is HPV very common?”
HPV is the most common viral STI in New Zealand. It is thought that up to 80% of people who have sex will get HPV at some time in their lives.
“If I get HPV, does that mean I have it for life?”
No you won’t have HPV for life. There are over 100 types of HPV and most infections are low-risk and will go away before they cause any health problems.
Some types of HPV can cause genital warts.
There are a few types of HPV that are high-risk and may lead to cell changes in the cervix, which could later develop into cancer.
“If I get HPV, does that mean I will get cancer?”
No. There are over 100 types of HPV and only a few types are high-risk and cause cancer. And even if you have a high-risk type of HPV, this does not mean you have cancer, or will get cancer.
“I’ve had the HPV vaccine, do I still need to get a cervical screen?”
Yes, you still need to be regularly screened. The HPV vaccine does not protect you from all types of HPV, so it is important to have cervical screens to catch any abnormal cells caused by the types of HPV not covered in the vaccine.
“Does my boyfriend need the HPV vaccine?”
Both men and women can get HPV. Men can get genital warts and some cancers of the throat. That is why the vaccine is now available for both men and women. If you’re between 9 and 26, you can get the vaccine free from some Family Planning clinics.
“I’m only 21, do I need a cervical screen?”
If you have ever had sex or sexual contact with another person, you should get screened every three years, from the time you turn 20 until you are 70.
“I’ve only had sex with one person, do I even need to be screened?”
It doesn’t matter how many or how few people you have had sex with - if you have had sexual contact with someone who has HPV, there is a chance you might have caught HPV.
YOUR BEST PROTECTION
Remember that the best protection from HPV and cervical cancer is to:
Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.