Over the last decade charities, campaigners and doctors have worked tirelessly to encourage patients to attend smear tests and understand the risks of cervical cancer. 13 years ago the NHS rolled out the first HPV vaccinations in schools across England.
The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine pledged to help protect students between the ages of 12 and 13 from cervical cancer, among other cancers. And the first study results on the effectiveness of the program have highlighted that the HPV vaccines have protected thousands of people from experiencing cervical cancer.
Leading cancer charity, Cancer Research UK funded the study and published their results in The Lancet. By looking over their data they could estimate that by June 2019 there have been 450 fewer cases of cervical cancer and 17,200 fewer cases of pre-cancerous cells being identified.
Data was taken from students who took part in the HPV vaccine rollout between 2008 and 2012. They found that there had been a 97% drop in the number of people experiencing pre-cancerous cell changes if they'd received the vaccine at the age of 12 or 13. Those students would now be in their twenties and the study also highlighted that there has been an 87% drop in the rates of cervical cancer among the people who'd been vaccinated.
For those who had been immunised between the ages of 14 and 16, there was a 75% drop. For those vaccinated between the ages of 16 and 18, the researchers noted a 39% drop in cases.
"Results like this show the power of science," said Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive at Cancer Research UK. "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."
Researchers predicted that if the vaccine rollout had not been so well received then pre-cancerous cells could have impacted the lives of nearly 36,000 people. Professor Peter Sasieni, a researcher from Kings College London outlined just how crucial the vaccination program has been in raising awareness for cervical cancer. Currently, you will be invited for your smear test every three to five years. However, Dr. Sasieni argues that these results show that the government needs to be more proactive.
"It should be a wake-up call to policy-makers, women will read this and think ‘why should I go for screening?'" they said. "I would hope we’d come back with a new screening programme, two to three times a lifetime and continue screening women who have not been vaccinated.”
If you didn’t receive the HPV vaccine at school and you’d like more information, you can speak to your healthcare professional about how to access it.
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