Time is running out for free cancer vaccine

Monday 15 June, 2009

Cancer Council Victoria and Melbourne Sexual Health Centre are urging women aged 18 to 26 to get their first dose of the vaccine by 30 June 2009. The vaccine helps to protect women against cervical cancer and also protects against 90 per cent of genital warts.

Cervical cancer and genitals warts are caused by different strains of the same virus, the common sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). The cervical cancer vaccine (also known as the HPV vaccine) protects against:

  • HPV types 16 and 18 - responsible for 70 per cent of cervical cancers
  • HPV types 6 and 11 - responsible for 90 per cent of genital warts.

Director of Cancer Council Victoria Professor, David Hill is warning eligible women that they will have to pay for the full vaccination course if they miss the deadline of the government funded HPV vaccination program.

"The vaccine involves three needles over a six month period and women aged 18 to 26 who wish to access the vaccine for free must have their first dose by 30 June 2009, and complete subsequent free doses by 31 December 2009," said Prof Hill.

Women who access the vaccine after June 30 will have to pay $450.

Professor Hill says while it is too early to assess the impact of the vaccine on cervical cancer rates, there are already some positive signs.

"Cervical cancer usually takes more than ten years to develop so we won't know the full impact of the vaccine for some time however, a study conducted by Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSCH), part of The Alfred, revealed a steady decline in genital warts diagnoses among women aged 18 to 26. This tells us that the vaccine is working," Professor Hill said.

Director of Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, Professor Christopher Fairley says there has been a substantial decline in the number of women attending the centre with genital warts since the HPV vaccination program began in 2007.

"Data collected over four years reveals a 15 per cent decrease in genital warts in just 12 months. It is really promising to see such a steady decline however, this downward trend will only continue if women continue to access the vaccine," Professor Fairley said.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

  • The Australian Government funded catch-up program for women aged 18 to 26 finishes 30 June 2009
  • Women can access the vaccine through their GP
  • Girls in Year seven will continue to receive the HPV vaccine through the ongoing school-based immunisation program

If women or parents have questions about HPV, cervical cancer or Pap tests they can visit http://www.papscreen.org.au/ or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

If girls and women have questions about the cervical cancer vaccine they can visit immunise.health.gov.au or call Immunise Australia on 1800671811.