Cervical cancer in young women down 90pc since HPV vaccinations began

Cervical cancer rates have fallen 90 per per cent among young women after the introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) jab for teenagers, research published in the Lancet shows.

The study is the first to examine the rollout of the immunisation programme, which began in schools in 2008. It found the jabs have stopped hundreds of young women from developing the disease, and thousands from experiencing pre-cancerous changes that can lead to it.

The King’s College London study found the programme had now "almost eliminated cervical cancer and cervical pre-cancer" in women aged 25 and under.

Across all women in their 20s, the jabs were found to have reduced the number of cases of cervical cancer by 40 per cent, with 462 fewer cases. The fall took total numbers from 1,100 cases to 638.

The effect was strongest in the youngest cohort, who were given jabs when they were 12 and 13 and are now in their early 20s. Here, rates fell by 90 per cent. 

Girls who received their first jab between the ages of 14 and 16 saw rates fall by 62 per cent, and among those aged 16 to 18 – who were in their late 20s when the study closed – rates fell by 34 per cent.

Fall in cervical cancer cases among those in their 20s

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus, which is commonly sexually transmitted. It can cause abnormal changes in cervical cells, and these can lead to cancer.

The study found that the number of "pre-cancers" had halved since the programme was rolled out. Researchers said around 17,200 such cases were prevented. 

Cases of cervical cancer have always been rare among people in their 20s. Before the rollout of jabs, there were about 55 cases of cervical cancer a year among women aged 20 to 24 across the UK. Researchers said the trend should bring this down to about seven this year. Meanwhile, cases among women aged 25 to 29 are expected to fall from 375 to 195. 

In total around 3,200 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year, mostly among older women. Researchers said the data showed the papillomavirus had been "almost eliminated" in the youngest groups.

Experts looked at data from the HPV immunisation programme using the Cervarix vaccine, which was given to girls on the NHS from 2008 to September 2012. A different jab, Gardasil, is now used for the programme and is given to girls and boys aged 12 and 13.

The researchers said their findings provided the first direct worldwide evidence of prevention of cervical cancer using a vaccine for two types of HPV.

‘The HPV vaccine saves lives’

Prof Peter Sasieni, the lead study author from King’s College London, said: "It’s been incredible to see the impact of HPV vaccination and now we can prove it prevented hundreds of women from developing cancer in England.

"We’ve known for many years that HPV vaccination is very effective in preventing particular strains of the virus, but to see the real-life impact of the vaccine has been truly rewarding."

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist for the UK Health Security Agency, which also took part in the study, said: "These remarkable findings confirm that the HPV vaccine saves lives by dramatically reducing cervical cancer rates among women. 

"We encourage all who are eligible for the HPV vaccine to take it up when it is offered in school. All those eligible can catch up until their 25th birthday.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: "Results like this show the power of science. It’s a historic moment to see the first study showing that the HPV vaccine has and will continue to protect thousands of women from developing cervical cancer."

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