Most changes to the cells of the cervix are due to an infection called HPV—Human Papilloma Virus.
Anyone who has ever had sexual contact could have HPV—it is so common that four in five people will have had genital HPV at some time in their lives. In most women the virus clears up naturally in one to two years. Although HPV infection can cause cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer it usually take a long time—often more than 10 years.
There is a vaccine available that can prevent new infection with some of the types of HPV that have been associated with causing cervical cancer, anal cancer and genital warts. It is advised that young people are vaccinated before they have been exposed to the virus e.g. before they have had any sexual contact. The vaccine is available in Australia, free, for boys and girls aged 12 and 13 under the National HPV Vaccination Program.
In Australia the vaccine is approved for use in males and females from nine years old up to 26 years. For those that did not receive the vaccination during the School Immunisation Program and would like to be immunised, they will need to get the vaccine from a doctor. It will cost approximately $450 for the full three-dose course, which is given over eight months.
Women still need to have regular Cervical Screening Tests from the age of 25, even after having the vaccine.