Words by Ruta Cakla, Staff Writer

Last week experienced exciting news in the medical research community as a new study funded by Cancer Research UK and published in The Lancet, showed that the HPV vaccine reduced cervical cancer rates by 87% in women who were vaccinated at ages 12 to 13 when compared to their unvaccinated peers. 

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which means that by getting vaccinated against the virus, there is the potential to prevent the development of cervical cancer in people with a cervix.

Scientists analysed data from a total of 13.7 million patients: women now aged 20 to 29, who had received the HPV vaccine Cervarix when they were 12 to 18 years old. To investigate whether the age at which a patient receives the vaccine is significant, the data was split into three groups of different age ranges. It was found that the cervical cancer rates were reduced by 34% in girls who received their vaccine when they were 16–18 year sold, by 62% in 14-16 year old group and, as mentioned above, by impressive 87% in 12-13 year olds when compared to the unvaccinated cohort. This information suggests that cervical cancer can not only be potentially prevented by getting the HPV vaccine, but also that the chance of developing cervical cancer can be further decreased by getting vaccinated at younger (12-13) rather than older (16 -18) ages. This incidence could be explained by the fact that the HPV vaccine is the most effective if received before the individual becomes sexually active. Furthermore, the research team concluded that cervical cancer has successfully been almost eliminated in women born since 1st of September 1995. 

These findings reflect the importance of the HPV immunisation programme, which in the UK is provided for free by the NHS. The vaccination programme was first introduced in 2008 when it was offered to girls aged 12 to 13. Since 2019 the eligibility to the HPV vaccine has been extended to boys as men can also carry the Human papillomavirus. The first dose is routinely offered to schoolchildren in Year 8 (12-13 years old) with the second dose recommended to be taken 6 to 24 months after the first one. It is important to note that people who have missed the vaccine in school can still receive it free from charge through their GP until their 25th birthday. 

According to the Vaccine Knowledge Project, which is led by researchers at the University of Oxford, approximately 64 000 cervical cancers will be prevented by year 2058 thanks to the vaccination programme. This data alongside with the recent study mentioned above provides a great argument for getting vaccinated and is good news for people with cervixes across the UK.

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