Cervical cancer could be eradicated as HPV vaccine slashes 90% of cases

HPV vaccines are slashing cervical cancer rates by a massive 87 per cent, an English study has found.

Scientists say the cancer, which killed reality star Jade Goody when she was just 27, will become a rare disease thanks to the jabs.

They have been given to teenage girls since 2008 and, in the first 10 years, prevented an estimated 17,200 “pre-cancers” as well as 450 cancer cases in women in their 20s.

Cancer Research UK’s Michelle Mitchell said: “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.”

The jab works by preventing HPV, a common sexually transmitted virus which causes almost all cervical cancers.

The study, led by King’s College London, found the vaccine works better when given before girls are sexually active and at risk of catching the virus.

Women in their 20s who got the jab aged 12 or 13 were 87 per cent less likely to get cervical cancer than unvaccinated women.

Getting the vaccine aged 14 to 16 cut the risk by 62 per cent and aged 16 to 18 cut it by 34 per cent.

Professor Peter Sasieni, from King’s College, said: “Previous studies have shown vaccination preventing HPV infection in England but direct evidence on cervical cancer was limited.

“The impact is even greater than we predicted.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, he added that the vaccine worked 'better than they anticipated in everyway'.

He explained that it needs to be offered before people become infected and that's why it's given to young children.

"The virus is primarily transmitted through sexual contact so it’s important to start giving the vaccine before sexual activity starts.

"We know that there's been very high rates of HPV infection in the past in teenagers and probably about 80 per cent of people would have been infected at least once by the age of 3,so it's a very common infection, so it’s important to vaccinate before people are exposed to the virus."

What is cervical cancer and what signs should you be looking out for?

Cervical cancer is a cancer that is found anywhere in the cervix.

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection from certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

The NHS says that it can often be prevents by screening which can treat abnormalities before they turn into cancer.

It grows very slowly and how serious it is depends on how big it is.

Know the signs

The main signs of cervical cancer are:

  • Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Discomfort or pain during sex
  • Lower back pain
  • Unintended weight loss

As the disease progresses it can also result in:

  • increased need to pee
  • blood in pee
  • bleeding from the bottom
  • diarrhoea
  • incontinence
  • lower limb swelling

It's hoped that the vaccine will protect people for life and Prof Sasieni said there is 'no evidence' of waning immunity, but that boosters could be administered to people in their 30s.

He added that the success of the vaccines could mean that screening for cervical cancer is phased out.

"It's still important for women who haven't had vaccinations because they were born too early.

"We need to rethink what the screening programme will look like for women who have been vaccinated."

He said that this could mean that women are screened just once or twice in their lifetime, rather than every few years.

Scientists studied an older version of the vaccine aimed at two strains of HPV, which has since been replaced by one that targets four.

And they said it would take years to find out exactly how many cancer cases the jabs prevent as the women age.

HPV jabs are now given to teenage boys as well to try and stop HPV from spreading at all, so the impact could be even bigger in future.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “These remarkable findings confirm that the HPV vaccine saves lives by dramatically reducing cervical cancer rates.

“It reminds us that vaccines are one of the most important tools we have to help us live longer, healthier lives.”

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