Cervical Cancer Rates Are Down By 87% Thanks To The HPV Vaccine – But Will This Proof That Vaccines Save Lives Sway Anti-Vaxxers?

The research is the first proof that the HPV vaccine, given to 12- and 13-year-old girls over a decade ago, is actually saving our lives now.

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by Georgia Aspinall |

Cervical cancer rates in women offered the HPV vaccine between the ages of 12 and 13 are 87% lower than those unvaccinated, new research has found. The study is the first proof that the NHS vaccination programme launched 13 years ago saves lives.

According to the Cancer Research UK-funded study, published in The Lancet this morning, the HPV vaccine has stopped thousands of women from developing cervical cancer and experiencing pre-cancerous changes to cells. HPV (human papillomavirus) is the virus that causes cervical cancer. Right now in the UK, around 3,200 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year.

Those vaccinated at ages 12 and 13 would now be in their 20s, with the programme running via the NHS from 2008 to September 2012. The HPV immunisation programme used the vaccine Cervarix, and while only 12 to 13-year-olds were offered it at first, girls aged 14 to 16 and 16 to 18 were also offered the vaccine at later stages. Now, a different vaccine named Gardasil is used for the programme and given to girls and boys aged 12 and 13.

The study showed that those vaccinated between the ages of 12 and 13 saw a reduction in cervical cancer rates of 87%, while cases for those vaccinated between 14 and 16 reduced by 62%, and for 16 and 18-year-olds, cases reduced by 34%. Experts used the data to estimate that by June 2019, there were around 450 fewer cases of cervical cancer (down to 374 cases in 2016-2018) and 17,200 fewer cases of cervical carcinomas (pre-cancers) than expected in those vaccinated against HPV in England.

Without vaccination, almost 36,000 women would have been affected by pre-cancerous changes.

Without vaccination, researchers state that almost 36,000 women would have been affected by pre-cancerous changes. Now, there's been renewed interest in the HPV vaccine from the British public. 'Can I get the HPV vaccine as an adult' and 'HPV vaccine age' is trending as a search term on Google, as well as 'cervical cancer jab'.

‘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,’ said Professor Peter Sasieni, lead study author, from King’s College London. ‘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.

‘Assuming most people continue to get the HPV vaccine and go for screening, cervical cancer will become a rare disease.’

‘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,’ Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist for UKHSA, which also took part in the study, added. ‘Together with cervical screening, this will help to protect more women from preventable cases of cervical cancer.’

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