The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name given to a common group of viruses that affect the skin and moist membranes lining the body, such as the cervix, mouth and throat.
There are around 200 types. Some of which can cause conditions such as warts, whilst others are called 'high risk' because they are linked to the development of cancers. The most well-known of these is cervical cancer, although HPV has also been linked to other cancers, including cancers of the head and neck.
In the UK, girls aged 12–13 years old have been routinely offered the HPV vaccination since 2008. The NHS programme uses a vaccine called Gardasil, which protects against 4 types of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Types 16 and 18 between them are the cause of the majority (over 70%) of cervical cancers in the UK. Types 6 and 11 cause around 90% of genital warts. The vaccine is given as two doses, administered into the upper arm with 6–12 months between doses.
In July 2018, it was announced that the vaccination would also be offered to boys aged 12–13 years, with the first vaccinations for boys being offered in September 2019. This action from the UK has triggered an exciting step forward – on 10 December 2019, cancer experts across Europe gathered in Brussels and set a common goal for the European region: to eliminate cancers caused by HPV as a public health problem in Europe. To help achieve this, the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO) announced the creation of the HPV Action Network. The aim of the network is to bring all the stakeholders together to reach the elimination goal over the next four years.