Vaccinating girls against HPV reduces their risk of cervical cancer

Routinely vaccinating 12 to 13 year old girls against HPV has slashed rates of cervical disease by nearly 90%

  • All girls in the UK have been offered the vaccine at age of 12 or 13 since 2008
  • Study of 138,000 women shows it has cut rates of abnormal cervical cells 
  • These are considered to be one of the warnings signs of cervical cancer  
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Routinely vaccinating British schoolgirls against the HPV virus has led to a dramatic reduction in cervical disease in later life, research suggests.

All schoolgirls in the UK have been offered the human papillomavirus vaccine at the age of 12 or 13 since 2008.

The new study of 138,000 women in Scotland shows the programme has cut rates of abnormal cervical cells – one of the warnings signs of cervical cancer – by nearly 90 per cent.

They hope that in time they will be able to prove it has also cut rates of cervical cancer but the full impact will not be known until the girls who have been vaccinated enter their late 20s and 30s.

All schoolgirls in the UK have been offered the human papillomavirus vaccine at the age of 12 or 13 since 2008

Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every a year and 1,000 die with the disease annually.

Researchers looked at the impact of the vaccination programme on levels of abnormal cells and cervical lesions, known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN, which can be the early warning signs of cervical cancer.

The higher the CIN grade, the higher the risk of developing invasive cancer.

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The team, led by Tim Palmer at the University of Edinburgh, analysed vaccination and screening records for 138,692 women born between 1988 and 1996 who had a screening test result recorded at age 20.

They found that, compared with unvaccinated women born in 1988, vaccinated women born in 1995 and 1996 showed an 89 per cent reduction in CIN grade 3 or worse, an 88 per cent reduction in CIN grade 2 or worse, and a 79 per cent reduction in CIN grade 1.

Unvaccinated women also showed a reduction in disease, suggesting that interruption of HPV transmission in Scotland has created substantial ‘herd protection’, researchers said.


Around two million boys in the UK will miss out on the HPV vaccine because of the Government’s refusal to offer them a catch-up, it was reported in December.

Ministers announced in the summer that the life-saving jabs, which have been given to teenage girls since 2008, would also be offered to boys.

When the roll-out was announced for girls a decade ago, officials offered a catch-up programme to those aged between 13 and 18.

But this same 13-to-18 add-on will not be offered to boys who, it is hoped, will be able to get the vaccine between the ages of 12 and 13 from 2019.

Critics fear this could mean a generation of boys too old to qualify for the vaccine won’t be protected from the virus, which can cause cancer of the penis and anus.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, said: ‘Routine vaccination of girls aged 12-13 years with the bivalent HPV vaccine in Scotland has led to a dramatic reduction in preinvasive cervical disease.

‘The bivalent vaccine is confirmed as being highly effective vaccine and should greatly reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.

‘The findings will need to be considered by cervical cancer prevention programmes worldwide.’

Dr Kevin Pollock, senior research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University and the study’s co-author, said: ‘The conclusion is that the vaccine has exceeded expectation.

‘It is associated with near elimination of both low and high grade cervical disease in young Scottish women eight years after the vaccine programme started.

‘The figures are impressive and show a reduction of up to 90 per cent of cervical disease abnormalities – pre-cancerous cells.

‘These data are consistent with the reduced circulation of high-risk HPV infection in Scotland and confirm that the HPV vaccine should significantly reduce cervical cancer in the next few years.

‘Indeed, cervical cancer cases in women aged 20-24 have reduced by 69 per cent since 2012.’

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: ‘The findings of this research are highly exciting and clearly demonstrate the impact of the HPV vaccine in protecting the cervical health of future generations.

‘We are lucky to have such an effective prevention programme which means the elimination of cervical cancer is firmly on the horizon.

‘Focusing on communities and areas where take up is below the national average should be a priority.’

The Government is planning to expand the vaccination programme to boys next year.

Boys were not included in the vaccination programme, but ministers have changed tack after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised the scheme be extended to boys at the same age.

HPV is thought to cause around 2,500 cases of cancer in men each year and around 650 deaths, mainly from cancers of the throat and mouth.

HPV is spread through sexual contact, and is given in the early teens so an immune response is established before they become sexually active. 


Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with HPV in their lives

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body. 

Spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex and skin-to-skin contact between genitals, it is extremely common. 

Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives.

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 of which can affect the genital area. Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious.

Many people never show symptoms, as they can arise years after infection, and the majority of cases go away without treatment.

It can lead to genital warts, and is also known to cause cervical cancer by creating an abnormal tissue growth.

Annually, an average of 38,000 cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the US, 3,100 cases of cervical cancer in the UK and around 2,000 other cancers in men.

HPV can also cause cancers of the throat, neck, tongue, tonsils, vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It can take years for cancer to develop.

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