Published in the medical journal, the Lancet, the study explored the impact of the HPV vaccine, since it was introduced for girls in England in 2008. The study's findings offer the first real-world data (which, put simply, is data taken from a number of sources that assess the patient population in real-world settings) into the success of the vaccine, revealing that it lead to a reduction in both pre-cancerous growths and an 87% reduction in cervical cancer itself.
The research has been welcomed by Cancer Research UK, who described the findings as "historic," and praised the vaccine for saving lives. Similarly, Samantha Dixon, Chief Executive at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "At a time of when the topic of vaccination is in the public eye, it is incredibly positive to see solid evidence of the success of the HPV vaccine in reducing cervical cancer diagnoses."
She continued, "We are truly on the path to making cervical cancer a thing of the past. We must not get complacent however and must work to ensure every child has the opportunity to access their vaccination, especially as COVID continues to affect programme delivery. No vaccine is 100% effective and cervical screening remains an important test."
The vaccine, which was rolled out in England in 2008 for girls aged 11 to 13, helps to prevent HPV infections, although it cannot rid the body of the virus once it has been caught. As the NHS website explains, "HPV is the name of a very common group of viruses. They do not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer."
The virus can be caught through any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, vaginal, anal or oral sex, and by sharing sex toys. HPV is very common, and most people contract the virus at some point in their lives. However, although for many people HPV does not cause any problems, for some people, some types of HPV can cause abnormal changes in the cells that can sometimes turn into cancer.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer amongst women across the world, and kills more than 300,000 every year. Promisingly however, the study estimated that the HPV vaccine rollout has prevented around 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers. Researchers hope, therefore, that these findings show we are one step closer to eliminating the disease altogether.
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