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HPV vaccine linked to fall in early cancer warning signs

Routine HPV vaccines for girls has led to a dramatic reduction in women with cell changes linked to cervical cancer, research has found.

Women who were not vaccinated also seem to be protected, suggesting the vaccine has reduced transmission of the cancer-causing virus in Scotland.

Researchers say their findings confirm the vaccine is highly effective and should be considered as part of cervical cancer prevention programmes worldwide.

Vaccination programme

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections and is responsible for 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases globally and more than 90 per cent of cervical cancers in Scotland.

Since 2008, girls in Scotland aged between 12 and 13 have been offered the HPV vaccine for free as part of a national immunisation programme.

Health records

A team including the University of Edinburgh analysed health records from young girls born between 1988 and 1996 who went on to have a smear test at age 20.

Abnormal cells

They looked at their smear test results and in tissue samples for reports of abnormal cells, which are an early warning sign of cancer. Cells are classified into grades, with higher-grade cells linked to the greatest risk of cancer.

The HPV vaccine was linked to an 89 per cent drop in the number of women with high-grade abnormal cells at their first smear test, the study found.

Herd immunity

Effects were greatest when women had been vaccinated between 12 and 13. Those who were vaccinated before age 17 also had a 50 per cent drop in reports of abnormal cells.

Unvaccinated women also showed a reduction in disease. Researchers say this suggests the vaccine has created a herd immunity in the population that has interrupted the spread of the virus.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal and also involved academics from the Universities of Aberdeen and Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University.

Our findings from Scotland suggest the HPV vaccine is working and will eventually reduce cervical cancer rates. This underpins the recent call for global action on cervical cancer from the World Health Organisation.

Dr Tim PalmerHonorary Research Fellow, The University of Edinburgh’s Division of Pathology and Clinical Lead for Cervical Screening in Scotland

Related links

Journal article

Study at Edinburgh Medical School

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