In the ten years since the introduction of free HPV vaccination for teenage girls, Public Health England have reported an 86% decrease in 16 to 21-year-old young women infected by HPV16 and HPV18, the two strains of HPV believed to be the biggest cause of cervical cancer.
This decrease demonstrates the success of the vaccine, which has now been received by over 80% of women in England. Whilst HPV infection is not the only cause of cervical cancer, it is thought to account for 99% of cases. The success of the HPV vaccination programme in teenage girls to date is a very positive indication that there is hope that in the foreseeable future we will see an end to the suffering caused by this life-changing disease.
What is HPV?
The Human Papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, is the name given to a group of viruses that affect the skin. HPV can be transmitted from skin to skin contact.
Most of the time, the HPV viruses are completely harmless. The infected person is usually unaware that they have HPV as there are no symptoms. The immune system can often destroy most strains of the HPV virus but some people’s bodies are unable to get rid of the HPV virus leaving them with a persistent infection. This persistent infection causes change to the cells of the cervix. Infection from HVP types 16 and 18 is known to increase the risk of cervical cancer.
How is HPV detected and what happens after it has been found?
HPV is tested for during cervical cancer screening to find abnormal changes that are more likely to develop into cancer. HPV is also checked for after treatment for abnormal cells of the cervix to check that treatment has been successful. If the results of the screening show low grade dyskaryosis (abnormalities in the cells), then the woman will be referred for a colposcopy, so that their cervix can be examined more closely.
HPV is also checked for during diagnosis of some types of head and neck cancer to help plan treatment and also during anal cancer screening.
What is the HPV vaccine?
The NHS offers HPV vaccination to girls from age 12 or 13. The aim is to immunise girls against HPV before they become sexually active, as HPV infection is not an indicator of promiscuity. Infection can occur even on first contact with an infected person. The vaccination programme is designed to protect individuals but also, by reducing the number of people who carry the HPV virus, it is hoped that it will reduce the overall incidence of cervical cancer in the future.
The vaccine is currently also offered to homosexual men up to the age of 45 as they are more likely to suffer from HPV leading to anal cancers.
From September 2019, boys will also be offered the HPV vaccine free in schools from age 11 to 13 in Scotland, and from age 12 to 13 in the rest of UK. It is hoped that boys up to the age of 18 may also be able to get the HPV vaccine free from their GP. By vaccinating boys against HPV it is hoped that the risk of spread of HPV infection to girls will be reduced.
The vaccine is given by two or three injections over several months. This vaccine helps boost the immune system and protect from HPV infection.
The vaccine is not a treatment for HPV, but a preventative measure. For this reason it must be given before the young person has had the opportunity to be infected by HPV.
It is important to remember that HPV vaccination does not remove the need for cervical screening, as HPV infection is not the only cause of cervical cancer. Early detection and treatment of cervical abnormalities is essential to remove or reduce the harm caused by cervical cancer.
Has the HPV vaccine worked?
Yes. In addition to Public Health England’s reported success, a Scottish study has also been carried out which concluded that the vaccine has worked better than expected. It was anticipated that the vaccine would knock out two types of HVP, but it has been reported that five strands of the HPV vaccine have been eliminated, dramatically reducing the incidence of HPV.
How can Boyes Turner help?
The enormous stress that a woman and her family suffer from a diagnosis of cervical cancer, the process of treatment, the loss and disability caused by ongoing symptoms and the fear of future recurrence cannot be over-estimated, whatever the circumstances.
Where this suffering takes place or is exacerbated by negligent medical treatment, such as errors or delays in diagnosis and treatment, miscommunication affecting the recall of women needing follow up, or misinterpreted smear and test results, the woman or her bereaved family may be entitled to claim compensation.
Whilst money cannot change the events which have taken place, in our experience, negligently injured women and their families can benefit from compensation which:
- reflects (in so far as money can) the pain and suffering and disability;
- replaces lost earnings where the woman is no longer able to work;
- helps pay for adaptations to the home to meet her needs, e.g. for accessible bathrooms, help with stairs etc;
- meets the cost of counselling and therapy for psychological injury;
- reimburses the cost of additional hospital attendances and travel;
- meets the cost of necessary care, home help or other domestic assistance;
- in the event of a mother’s death, helps the family meet the additional costs which arise at home and in relation to child-care for bereaved, dependent children.
Boyes Turner’s clinical negligence solicitors have helped countless women and their families rebuild their lives after negligent treatment of cervical cancer. Having seen for ourselves the devastating impact of cervical cancer on women’s lives, we remain committed to raising awareness of this life-changing disease and the efforts being made to prevent it, in the hope that there will be an end to the suffering it causes.
If you or a loved one have been affected by cervical cancer negligence, contact us by email at email@example.com.