The human papillomavirus (HPV) predisposes to cancer of the cervix, vagina and vulva, and by vaccinating all women against this virus the incidence of these cancers should drop dramatically in future. Cancer of the cervix can be detected by a Pap smear performed every two years on sexually active women.
HPV is responsible for the development of warts, but there are many different types of HPV, and this vaccine protects against types 6, 11, 16 and 18 that are the types mainly responsible for genital warts.
The vaccine is given in three doses at intervals of 2 months and 6 months to teenage girls. Older women and men (to prevent transmission of the virus to their sexual partners) may be vaccinated if desired.
The vaccine does not treat existing genital warts but gives significant protection against developing such warts. It is for this reason that the vaccine is now given routinely to both girls and boys in their early teens, before they become sexually active.