Cervical cancer vaccine will cut cases by two thirds, experts calculate

The number of women under 30 diagnosed with cervical cancer will fall nearly two thirds by 2025 thanks to the vaccine against human papillomavirus, researchers say.

A study, published in the British Journal of Cancer on Jan. 20, predicted that the number of women in their 20s diagnosed with cervical cancer will drop by 63 percent in the next 15 years.

Girls ages 12 and 13 have been offered the HPV vaccine in the United Kingdom since 2008. It protects against two types of the virus — HPV 16 and HPV 18 — which cause approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers.

The researchers calculated the number of cancers that would be prevented by the vaccine, assuming 80 percent of girls took it up. Latest government figures suggest that 78 percent of girls had received all three doses of the vaccine.

Cancer Research U.K.’s Professor Jack Cuzick, lead author from Queen Mary, University of London, said: “In women in their 20s alone, around 145 cases of cervical cancer will be prevented each year in the UK thanks to the HPV vaccine. And around 13,000 women each year will be spared from having an abnormal screening test result.

“Our predictions are really encouraging. If girls continue to take up the vaccine, thousands in the future could be prevented from developing cervical cancer and many more would avoid treatment to remove abnormal precancerous cells.

“This is the most realistic estimate of the impact the vaccination program will have on the number of women who develop cervical cancer. It shows that the vaccine has great potential in preventing the disease in the near future, but also that it’ll take several decades before we see its full benefits.”

There are around 2,800 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the U.K. each year, and around 225 of these are in women in their 20s.

Around two thirds of women with cervical cancer survive for five years or more but around 940 women die from cervical cancer each year in the U.K.

Dr. Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research U.K., said: “This is really good news for girls who have had the vaccine and for those who will have it in the future. But it’s important to remember that the vaccine will not completely wipe out cervical cancer because it doesn’t protect against every type of high risk HPV.

“Now and for the foreseeable future, it’s vital that women go for cervical screening when they’re invited. Screening can prevent cervical cancer by detecting unusual changes in the cervix before cancer develops and it saves thousands of lives in the U.K. each year.

“Our message is to take up the opportunity to get vaccinated but it’s equally important to go for screening when you’re invited.”