A study has found that the uptake of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination among schoolgirls in Britain has led to plummeting cervical cancer risk. All schoolgirls in Britain have been offered the HPV vaccine at the age of 12 or 13 since 2008 and later this year, the programme will be extended to boys of the same age.
The study, published in The Lancet medical journal looked at screening programmes involving 60 million people in 14 countries and found levels of the two strands of HPV virus – that are mainly responsible for the cancer – fell 83 per cent in girls aged 13 to 19 after five to eight years of vaccination, and 66 per cent in women aged 20 to 24. The researchers, led by Laval University in Canada, said that if the number of people having the vaccination remains high, the cancer could soon be eliminated.
Study leader Professor Marc Brisson said, ‘What we are working on now is trying to determine when elimination will occur. We don’t have a precise date but we’re trying to determine when it will occur.’
He added that Australian scientists have estimated they could wipe out cervical cancer in their country – which is similar to UK – within a few decades.
Dr David Mesher, of Public Health England, added, ‘There will be a time in the future where we will see very low rates of cervical cancer.’
Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with the disease every year, while almost 1,000 die from it annually.
The research team also looked at the impact of the vaccination programme on levels of abnormal cells and cervical lesions, known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), which can be early warning signs of cervical cancer.
The higher the CIN grade, the higher the risk of developing invasive cancer.
The researchers found a 51 per cent reduction in CIN2+ lesions – one of the most serious forms – five to nine years after vaccination.
Professor Brisson added, ‘Because of our finding, we believe the World Health Organisation call for action to eliminate cervical cancer may be possible in many countries if sufficient vaccination coverage can be achieved.’
Robert Music, chief executive at UK’s Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said, “This is truly exciting news, which clearly shows the impact of the HPV vaccine in protecting the cervical health of future generations. We’re lucky to have the HPV vaccination programme here in the UK and this study supports the imminent roll-out of the gender-neutral HPV vaccine.”
But he added, “This study also shows the urgent need for all countries without a vaccination programme to be supported in establishing one.”