Fall in HPV rates raises hopes of cervical cancer eradication

A Lancet review of 65 studies covering 60 million people showed a fall in HPV cases and in pre-cancerous growths.

Over a period of decades, it is thought this should translate into a significant fall and potential eradication.

The review covered studies in 14 high-income countries including the UK. It looked at HPV rates along with pre-cancerous cells in the cervix called CIN.


What did the review find?

Cases of HPV 16 and 18 were down 83% in girls aged 15-19 – 66% in women 20-24

Genital warts cases fell 67% in girls 15-19 – 54% in women 20-24

Pre-cancerous growths were down by 51% in girls 15-19 – 31% in women 20-24

It showed people who were not vaccinated benefited. Cases of genital warts in boys aged 15-19 fell by almost 50%, and significantly in women over 30.


What is the human papilloma virus (HPV)?

  • HPV is the name for a common group of viruses – there are more than 100 types of HPV
  • Many women will be infected with HPV over the course of their lifetime, with no ill effect
  • Most cervical cancers are caused by infection from a high-risk HPV
  • Others cause conditions including genital warts and cancers of the head and neck
  • The vaccine, given as two injections to girls aged 12 and 13, protects against four types of HPV – 16 and 18, which are linked to more than 70% of cervical cancers – and six and 11, which cause about 90% of genital warts
  • Girls who miss the HPV jab at school can still get it for free on the NHS up to the age of 25
  • It is also available privately, costing around £150 per dose
  • Boys aged 12-13 will also be offered the jab from September this year
  • The vaccine foes not project against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, so women still need to go for regular screening

Source: NHS Choices


Public Health England principal scientist Dr David Mesher said: “We are seeing reductions in HPV strains and in cervical disease as well, so there is every suggestion there will be reductions in cervical cancers too.”

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said the findings ‘clearly showed’ the impact of HPV vaccination.

“This study furthers the growing evidence to counteract those who don’t believe that this vaccine works, which is now extremely encouraging,” said chief executive Robert Music.

“We sincerely hope this will boost public faith in the HPV vaccine, so that more lives can be saved and we get closer to a world where cervical cancer is a thing of the past.”

Health officials say the HPV vaccine for 12-13-year-old boys, is due to start after summer, which will prevent 29,000 cancers in UK men in the next 40 years.

The jab protects against human papilloma virus, which causes many oral, throat and anal cancers.

Girls aged 12-13 have been offered the HPV vaccine since 2008 in the UK. Protection lasts for at least 10 years, although probably much longer.

Boys who are 14-18 will not be able to get a free, catch-up vaccine in the UK, but they can buy it for around £150 per dose.

Girls can continue to have a catch-up jab up to the age of 25.

The Royal College of GPs said:

“The potential of this vaccine to save lives and prevent the complications of cancer is huge, and since it has been available on the NHS for girls, it has had excellent take-up, with impressive results – it’s important this success is replicated with boys.”


Text References

BBC News. (2019). Hopes raised of cervical cancer eradication. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-48758730. Last Accessed: 10 July 2019.

BBC News. (2019). HPV vaccine for boys ‘will prevent thousands of cancers’. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-48881008. Last Accessed: 10 July 2019.