UNITED KINGDOM – British researchers have reported that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine reduces the cases of cervical cancer by nearly 90%.
The study looked at what happened after the vaccine was made available to girls in England in 2008, who are now in their twenties.
According to Cancer Research UK, the findings promised an optimistic future, and that with the combined use of vaccines and screening, cervical cancer could become a rare disease.
The findings were described as “historic” by Cancer Research UK, and they demonstrated that the vaccine was saving lives.
Viruses cause nearly all cervical cancers, and vaccination could almost completely eliminate the disease.
According to the researchers, the success meant that those who were vaccinated may require far fewer cervical smear tests as well.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, killing over 300,000 people each year.
Almost nine out of ten deaths occur in low and middle-income countries where cervical cancer screening is limited.
Vaccination, it is hoped, will have a greater impact in these countries than in wealthier nations such as the United Kingdom. More than 100 countries have begun using the vaccine as part of the World Health Organization’s plans to eliminate cervical cancer.
In the United Kingdom, girls between the ages of 11 and 13, depending on where they live, are offered the vaccine. Since 2019, boys have also been given the vaccine. The HPV vaccine can only prevent infection; it cannot eliminate the virus once it has entered the body.
Because the viruses are so widespread, children must be immunized before they become sexually active. The Lancet study looked at what happened after the vaccine was made available to girls in England in 2008.
Those students are now adults in their twenties. The study found a reduction in both precancerous and cancerous growths, as well as an 87 percent reduction in cervical cancer.
When older teenagers were immunized as part of a catch-up campaign, the reductions were less dramatic. This is because fewer older teenagers chose to get the vaccine, and they may already be sexually active.
According to the study, the HPV program has prevented approximately 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers.
“This study provides the first direct evidence of the impact of the UK HPV vaccination campaign on cervical cancer incidence, showing a large reduction in cervical cancer rates in vaccinated cohorts,” study co-author Dr. Kate Soldan from the UK Health Security Agency said.
Cervical cancer is uncommon in young women, so it is too soon to determine the full impact of HPV vaccinations on overall cervical cancer rates.
In this study, the UK also discontinued the use of the HPV vaccine in 2012. The UK now uses the Gardasil vaccine instead of the Cervarix vaccine.
The World Health Organization launched the Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer last year, the first-ever global commitment to cancer elimination, with the goal of getting 90 percent of girls fully vaccinated against HPV by the age of 15.