You can't put price on health

TEETERING on high heels, with her doll-like face and long blonde hair loose about her shoulders, Jae Abbott looks every inch the movie star.

The glamorous actress who lives in Polwarth is currently filming her first role in Lost Souls, the new movie by award-winning Edinburgh director Keith Bradley.

It seems hard to imagine that the 22-year-old should have more body worries than keeping herself tip-top for her next part.

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But Ms Abbott has just joined a small but growing band of young Lothians women concerned enough about the risk of cervical cancer to pay hundreds of pounds for a vaccination against it.

Starting next autumn, every girl in Britain aged between 12 and 18 will get the life-protecting series of injections – which work best if given before becoming sexually active – on the NHS.

The vaccine protects against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer and genital warts.

In Scotland the lifetime risk of a woman developing cervical cancer is 1 in 124, while worldwide cervical cancer kills 250,000 women a year.

At 450 for the three injections that comprise the Gardasil vaccine, it's not cheap. But Ms Abbott is outside the age range who will get it automatically, and she believes you can't put a price on your health.

Sitting on a sofa in a central Edinburgh coffee shop, Ms Abbott explains: "It's a lot of money, but if you didn't have the vaccination and then got cervical cancer, you wouldn't think 500 was a lot of money for your life."

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Ms Abbott doesn't match the typical profile of the dozen patients who have sought the vaccine at private Hawthornbank clinic Medicalternative since it began to offer it a year ago.

According to Dr Lyndsey Myskow, one of four staff who administer Gardasil there, most of the girls they see are aged from 15 to 18, and they come with their mothers or at their parents' instigation.

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She says: "Quite often mothers of teenage girls will come to enquire for their daughters, as they obviously want to protect them against cervical cancer and genital warts.

"Usually daughters in their mid-teens haven't yet started sexual relationships, so it's ideal to have it at that point.

"Because the human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer, is so common, it's highly likely that someone who is having sex will have already been exposed to the virus.

"We can give the vaccine up to the age of 26. But if someone has already had multiple sexual partners, they might not think it's worthwhile having it."

Ms Abbott was waiting for an appointment for a facial at Medicalternative when she saw notices advertising Gardasil.

Although none of her friends have had the vaccination, she decided it was worth putting the potentially life-saving jabs on her credit card.

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Sporting a Jimmy Choo designer handbag and revealing a fondness for Chanel make-up, Ms Abbott is used to spending money on her health and appearance.

But the actress' decision was influenced by memories of a family friend dying of cervical cancer and watching her mother Janet, 48, endure gruelling chemotherapy sessions for breast cancer.

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"In my mind, I got the vaccination because prevention is better than cure, but everything that happens in your life influences your decisions," she explains. "I think it's been in the back of my mind that my mum has cancer and her friend died of cervical cancer.

"I remember seeing my mum's friend in the last few months of her life, and she wasn't much older than 30.

"Her kids were so young when she died. It was a very sad situation and I remember my mum was very upset, as she was very close to her."

Getting the vaccine meant having injections in her arm at 150 a turn.

"I got the first vaccine in January from the nurse at Medicalternative. I'm not afraid of needles, but I was a bit jumpy. The next one was six weeks later and the third one will be six months after the first."

Does everyone remember to go back for the final injection? "Yes, and some people who have come from abroad to study in Britain have already started the vaccine and come to us for their six-month dose," says Dr Myskow.

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The doctor adds that the only cases where the vaccine is refused is if there is a suspicion of pregnancy or if someone has an illness causing fever.

Ms Abbott finishes off her green tea and gets up to go back to her filming. "There were no side effects apart from a slightly sore arm after the second injection," she adds.

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And did her mum believe her daughter had taken the sensible option?

"My mum found out when she saw my credit card bill, but once I told her what it was, she was fine with it," she smiles. "She'd thought it was better than spending money on an expensive handbag."


WHEN the cervical cancer vaccine becomes available at schools next autumn it will be the first mass vaccination against cancer in Britain.

Cervical cancer currently kills 250,000 women a year worldwide and the vaccine has a 100 per cent success rate in protecting people against the most common viruses known to cause the disease.

The vaccine has been welcomed by Cancer Research UK

The charity urges every woman between the ages of 25 and 65 to have a smear test at least every five years.

The charity's Sarah Woolnough said they were very concerned about the numbers of young women not attending cervical screening. She said: "We are funding research to explore why significant numbers are not attending and to examine what can be done to reverse current trends."