The HPV vaccine helped reduce cases of cervical cancer by almost 90% among women part of the UK’s mass vaccination program.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women. Although cervical cancer is preventable and curable, it causes more than 300,000 deaths each year. Most of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to cancer screening and a lack of awareness. Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has begun its cervical cancer elimination initiative. The global strategy aims to use the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, in combination with screening programs, to control infections.
In 2008, the UK introduced HPV immunizations and began administering the bivalent vaccine, Cervarix to girls aged 12 – 13 years. And additionally as a catch-up program for those aged 14-18 years. Health officials aimed to reduce the incidence of infections from HPV 16 and 18, which account for 80% of cervical cancers in the UK. Researchers then conducted an observational study, following the vaccinated women for cancers. They looked at all cancers diagnosed in women aged 20 to 64 years, between January 2006 and June 2019. The findings of the study are published in The Lancet.
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The researchers compared the incidence of cervical cancer among women vaccinated at various ages. Results showed that those vaccinated at age 12-13 had an 87% reduced risk of cervical cancer. Whereas those who received the HPV vaccine at 14-16 years had a 62% reduction. The effectiveness was further reduced as the age of vaccination increased to 16-18 years. Thus, revealing that the vaccine is most effective when given between the ages of 11 to 13, before likely exposure to HPV.
This is the first study to analyze the effectiveness of the bivalent cervical cancer vaccine. According to study authors, the HPV vaccine helped prevent 448 cervical cancers and more than 17,000 grade 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasias (CIN3s) in the UK. Therefore, experts believe that the combination of vaccines and screening tools can help eliminate cervical cancer.
Falcaro, M., Castañon, A., Ndlela, B., Checchi, M., Soldan, K., Lopez-Bernal, J., Elliss-Brookes, L., & Sasieni, P. (2021). The effects of the national HPV vaccination programme in England, UK, on cervical cancer and grade 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia incidence: A register-based observational study. The Lancet. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(21)02178-4