A UK study that followed girls who received the bivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (Cervarix) when they were aged 12 and 13 years has found that it dramatically reduced cervical cancer rates by almost 90%. Published in The Lancet, the study findings suggest that Britain’s HPV immunisation programme which was introduced in 2008 almost eliminated cervical cancer in women born since 1 September 1995.
The researchers based at King’s College London, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) estimated that the HPV vaccination programme prevented around 450 cervical cancers and around 17 200 cases of precancerous conditions over an 11-year period.
“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,” said Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive.
Previous results had confirmed that HPV vaccination is effective in preventing HPV infection, genital warts, and high-grade precancerous cell changes in the cervix.
But as the vaccine was only introduced in the 2000s, it hasn’t been possible until recently to definitely say the vaccine reduces cases of cervical cancer itself. One study, coming from research conducted in Sweden, found that HPV vaccination was responsible for a 63% reduction in cervical cancer incidence.
The latest study is the first of its kind to focus on the UK vaccination programme, and the first ever to analyse the effectiveness of the bivalent cervical cancer vaccine. The team looked at all cervical cancers diagnosed in England in women aged 20 to 64 between January 2006 and June 2019.
The vaccine reduced cervical cancer incidence by 34% in those who received it aged 16 to 18, by 62% if aged 14 to 16 and by 90% in those who were vaccinated aged 12 to 13.
Professor Peter Sasieni, lead author from King’s College London, says: “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. This year we have already seen the power of vaccines in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. These data show that vaccination works in preventing some cancers.”
HPV is also linked to other cancers, including vaginal, vulval, anal, penile and some head and neck cancers.
Reference: Falcaro M, et al. 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. Published 3 November 2021.