Three quarters of mothers are in favour of vaccinating their daughters against a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer – a study by Cancer Research UK reports* today.
This study revealed that most mums voted for girls to be vaccinated at 12. But some feared an injection that prevents cancer developing from the human papilloma virus (HPV) could have unpleasant side effects. Only a minority feared that it might encourage promiscuous behaviour.
Most mothers (80 per cent) agreed that the appropriate age for vaccination was between 10-14. And 75 per cent of mothers said they would probably or definitely accept the HPV vaccine for their daughter.
Potential side effects were a worry for 65 per cent of mothers. Only 12 per cent thought it would make girls more likely to have sex.
The research team sent out questionnaires explaining about HPV and asking specific questions relating to the age when mothers felt they could talk to their daughters about sex, cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and the purpose of vaccinations.
Of 1,205 questionnaires sent out to seven primary and three secondary schools in different areas of the UK, 684 were completed. All mothers had a least one daughter aged between 8-14.
Mothers willing to discuss sex with their daughters at an earlier age were more likely to be in favour of early age vaccination.
Professor Jane Wardle, lead author of the study and director of Cancer Research UK’s health behaviour unit, said: “This study was especially useful because all mothers questioned had daughters within the relevant age range for vaccination and we had very encouraging response rates. The results are encouraging in that they show most parents approve of vaccinating girls at the age of 12.
“This suggests that a school-based programme of vaccination is likely to find approval among parents. It is also important to note that the study showed no evidence that parents from less affluent backgrounds were any less enthusiastic about the vaccine.”
Around 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year and almost 1100 women die from the disease. It can affect women of any age.
Scientists have linked nearly all cases of cervical cancer to the human papilloma virus or HPV. Most women will be infected with HPV at some point as it is very common but the virus usually clears up on its own.
If HPV persists it can lead to changes in the cells of the cervix, which can result in cancer if left untreated. Cervical screening detects these early changes and the abnormal cells can then be removed thereby preventing cancer developing.
Two international drug companies have produced a cervical cancer vaccine, which has been hailed as a promising development for the future.
It still not known whether a vaccine would offer long term protection so it is essential that women should continue with cervical screening.
Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: “Clear communication is key in making certain that parents understand the reason for vaccinating girls early.
“A successful HPV vaccination programme would require the confidence of parents and their strong support. It is vitally important to obtain parental acceptance to ensure there would be a high uptake. This study shows that the vast majority of mothers are in favour of vaccination.”
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The National Screening Programme invites women for cervical screening, also known as the smear test, to check the health of the cervix. This enables any abnormalities in the cervix to be picked up and treated before cancer develops.
Cervical screening saves the lives of thousands of women every year. Invitations are sent out every three to five years to women in their early twenties up to women in their early sixties.
The study was funded by Sanofi Pasteur MSD