HPV vaccines have been in the news a lot recently. Currently, the NHS offers HPV vaccination to girls aged 12 to 13 years old. But recent campaigns have been calling for the vaccination to also be offered to boys. Last Tuesday, the government announced the decision to start vaccinating boys aged 12 to 13 against HPV. In this blog, we'll explain what HPV is and why it's been in the news.

What is HPV?
The human papilloma viruses (HPVs) are a group of common infections. There are more than 100 types of HPV, and some types (called high-risk HPV) are known to increase the risk of developing different types of cancer, such as:

HPV spreads from person to person on the skin during sex, and can be passed on through any type of sexual contact. Anyone who is sexually active can be affected by HPV and most people will have it at some point in their life. But usually the virus causes no harm and there are no symptoms, so you may not even know that you have it.

Most people affected by high-risk HPV will not develop cancer. Usually the body’s immune system gets rid of the virus naturally. However, for some people, the immune system does not clear the infection. We do not know exactly why that is. If the virus stays in the body for longer, it may cause damage to cells. Over a long time, these abnormal cell changes may develop into cancer.

What do HPV vaccines do?
HPV vaccines can be used to help prevent HPV infection. This is usually given as 2 or 3 injections over several months. The vaccines helps your immune system to protect you from getting the infection. Vaccines cannot treat or get rid of a HPV infection if you already have it.

Who can currently have HPV vaccines?
The NHS currently offers the HPV vaccine to the following:

  • Girls aged 12 to 13 years old. The vaccine is given at this age because girls are less likely to be sexually active or have HPV. It is usually given at school, but can also be given at a GP clinic. The aim is to reduce the number of girls who develop cervical cancer in the future.
  • Men who have sex with men. This is because this group has higher risks from HPV infection such as anal cancer. The vaccine is available at sexual health and HIV clinics for men up to the age of 45.

Why have HPV vaccines been in the news?
Starting next year, the NHS will offer boys between the age of 12 to 13 the HPV vaccine. This will help prevent HPV infection in boys and will reduce their risk of developing oral, anal or penile cancer in later life. It will also reduce the risks of HPV for their future sexual partners.

We have more information about HPV on our website. But if you are worried about HPV and want to talk to someone, the Macmillan Support Line is available from 9am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, on 0808 808 00 00. You can also visit the Online Community to see what others are saying about HPV and for further support or ask our Digital Nurse Ellen a question.


To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in).

Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo