Immunisation and Vaccination

Immunisation stimulates the body’s immune system to protect against specific diseases, including precancerous viral infections.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus – four out of five people will experience it at some stage of their lives. There are many different types of HPV, which affect both males and females. In most people, the infection is harmless and clears up naturally in about one to two years. Occasionally, some types of HPV persist in the body and, if left untreated, can become cancerous.

How is HPV transmitted?

HPV is highly contagious and is passed from person to person through different forms of sexual contact. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no apparent signs or symptoms.

You can also develop symptoms years after sexual contact with someone infected by the virus, making it hard to know when the infection first occurred.

HPV and herpes are not related. If you have HPV, it does not mean you will have herpes.

How do you know if you have HPV?

HPV does not usually cause symptoms, so people are generally unaware they have it. Some women may become aware that they have HPV if they have an abnormal cervical screening result.

Can HPV be treated?

There is no treatment for the HPV virus; however it can often clear naturally from the body. There are treatments for the effects of the virus, such as warts or changes to the cells of the cervix. Routine cervical screening can detect HPV-related pre-cancer cell changes before cancer develops.

HPV and cancer

It is important to remember that most people who have HPV clear the virus naturally and do not go on to develop cancer. However, some types of HPV can cause changes to the cells of the body. If left untreated, these abnormalities can increase the risk of developing a number of cancers in both men and women – including cervical, vaginal, penile, anal, and head and neck cancers. Other types of HPV can cause genital warts.

Cervical cancer – recommendation for women

Some types of HPV have been found to cause abnormalities of the cervix and in some cases cancer of the cervix. Having regular cervical screening is the best way to ensure that any changes are detected early, monitored, and managed.

 

If a cervical screening test shows early cell changes due to HPV, there is a strong chance that these changes will naturally clear up in one to two years. Because of this, and the fact that cervical cancer takes around 10 years to develop, the doctor will most likely recommend a follow-up test in 12 months.

Cancer Council recommends that all women or anyone with a cervix aged between 25 and 74 years have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.

Read more about the National Cervical Screening Program.

Recommendations for men

See your General Practitioner if you notice anything new or unusual such as warts or other growths, lumps, or sores on your penis, scrotum, anus, mouth, or in the throat.

Protecting yourself against HPV

HPV Vaccination

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, has been developed to protect against nine HPV types which cause around 90% of cervical cancers in women (and the majority of other HPV-related cancers in women), 95% of all HPV-related cancers in men and 90% of genital warts.

The vaccine has been proven safe for use. Girls and boys aged 12–13 years can receive the HPV vaccine free of charge as part of the National HPV Vaccination Program. The vaccine is administered two times and the injections should be given at least six months apart.

Cancer Council recommends that all women or anyone with a cervix aged between 25 and 74 years have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.

The Australian Government has a two-phased approach to the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer: the National Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination Program and the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP).

  • Vaccination is a primary prevention strategy which aims to prevent the necessary causal agent of cervical cancer by preventing nine types of HPV.
  • Cervical screening is a secondary prevention strategy that aims to detect HPV infection and the abnormal precancerous changes prior to progression to cervical cancer.

Read more about the HPV vaccine and Cervical Screening.

Practice safe sex

Condoms can help to reduce the risk of HPV, but will not provide 100% protection against HPV because they do not cover all of the genital skin. Remember that condoms do protect against other sexually transmitted infections.

Hepatitis B vaccination

In Australia, hepatitis B infection is one of the significant risk factors for primary liver cancer. Primary liver cancer is the fastest-growing cause of cancer death, and the incidence is increasing more quickly than other cancers.

Hepatitis B is spread by contact with infected blood, semen or other body fluids. The most common way Hepatitis B is spread is during pregnancy or delivery, from mother to baby.

A Hepatitis B vaccination (HBV) is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation and is free through the National Immunisation Program Schedule. The vaccine is also available for adolescents and high-risk adults through state and territory governments.

One in three people with chronic hepatitis B in Australia do not know they have it. Your GP can perform a hepatitis B blood test that can determine whether you:

  • have chronic hepatitis B
  • had hepatitis B in the past
  • have already been vaccinated
  • need a vaccine to protect you

If you have chronic hepatitis B, ask your doctor for a referral to a liver specialist. The specialist will help you decide whether you need treatment, and discuss the options with you. Not everyone with chronic hepatitis B will need treatment.

More information

For more information about immunisation and vaccination, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our disclaimer.