HPV vaccine has almost wiped out infections in young women, figures show

Sarah Knapton
More than 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 800 will die from the disease - PA

The HPV vaccine has almost completely wiped out infections in young women, and if expanded to men could prevent thousands of cancer cases in Britain each year, new figures suggest.

New figures from Public Health England show that the rate of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in women aged between 16 to 21 who were vaccinated between 2010 and 2016 has fallen by 86 per cent.

More than 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 800 will die from the disease, with most cases caused by the HPV virus.

The vaccination is also expected to be extended to boys after the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) changed its advice showing the jab is cost-effective.

HPV causes around 2,000 cases of cancer in men each year and around 650 deaths, mainly from throat cancer. Men with the condition also risk passing it on to partners.

Professor Christopher Nutting, Consultant oncologist at The Royal Marsden Hospital in London said: “Implementation of the HPV vaccination program will save thousands of lives, and the addition of boys to the vaccination program is especially welcome.

“Almost all cervical cancer is HPV related so almost all of these cases  are avoidable.

“There will be a latency period of at least 10-15 years before we see the throat cancer rates drop.”

At a glance | Human papilloma virus (HPV)

The HPV vaccination programme was first introduced in 2008 and 80 per cent of girls aged 15-to-24 have now been vaccinated in the UK. It is available free on the NHS to all girls from the age of 12 until they turn 18.

Girls in England are routinely offered their first HPV vaccination when they are in year 8 of school. The second dose is offered six to 12 months later.

The Public Health England (PHE) study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, suggests the vaccine programme could trigger future reductions in cervical cancer rates.

Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at PHE, said: “These results are very promising and mean that in years to come we can expect to see significant decreases in cervical cancer, which is currently one of the biggest causes of cancer in women under 35.

“This study also reminds us how important it is to keep vaccination rates high to reduce the spread of this preventable infection.

“I encourage all parents of girls aged 12 to 13 to make sure they take up the offer of this potentially life-saving vaccine.”

The data shows declines across five high-risk HPV types in total, which cause around 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “It is extremely positive to see the impact that the vaccination has had on prevalence of cervical cancer-causing HPV infection among vaccinated women.

“One day we hope to see cervical cancer become a disease of the past and it is only through high vaccination rates that we will get there.

“For women who have had the vaccine, it is important to remember it does not offer full protection against cervical cancer so attending cervical screening when invited is still important.”