Health experts in the UK are considering vaccinating young girls of primary school age against the human papilloma virus.
The virus is spread by sexual activity and is known to be responsible for as much as 70% of cervical cancer cases.
Each year, over 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the UK and 11,000 in the USA.
If caught early enough almost all are are successfully treated.
The risk is low during the teens but is highest during the ages of 20 to 29, and then slowly decreases.
Cervical cancer is one of the few types of cancer where there are clear early stages which can be diagnosed and treated.
The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) has already given the vaccine the thumbs up and if a licence application is approved it could be used in females aged 9 to 26.
Trials of Gardasil have shown the vaccine to be effective in children as young as 9 and many experts are already in favour of vaccination at 11 or 12, as it is widely recognised that a significant proportion of girls have sex before the age of consent and it is important to give them protection.
Experts agree that the treatment is best administered before young women become sexually active.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a group of experts who advise the Department of Health, are expected to recommend the vaccination for young girls in October and in the meantime researchers have been testing parents’ attitudes to vaccination including at primary school age.
Some parents have expressed concern about introducing the vaccine at such an early age, but should the vaccine prove to have long-lasting protection it could well be given in future to very young children along with the other childhood vaccines.
There is on the whole widespread medical support for a mass vaccination programme to control human papillomavirus (HPV), but of course it has met with resistance from some groups, including the Catholic church, who say it will sanction early sexual activity.
Manufacturers Merck & Co and Sanofi Pasteur are hoping approval will be granted by October and the Department of Health say an HPV vaccination programme is being seriously considered.
Revision date: June 14, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.