Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women across the world, and every year, thousands of women learn that their cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). But a new study in the U.K. found that HPV vaccines have significantly reduced the risks of women developing the cancer and precancerous changes.
The study, conducted by Cancer Research UK and published in the journal The Lancet, followed an HPV vaccination program in England that started in 2008. The program offered a routine vaccination called Cervarix to teenagers, and confirmed that it was most effective in preventing cancer and precancerous issues when given to young pre-teens and teenagers before they are sexually active. It can take 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women who have normal immune systems, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The vaccine reduced cervical cancer rates by 34% for those who received it at ages 16 to 18; 62% for ages 14 to 16; and 87% for ages 12 to 13.
It also was found to reduce the risk for precancerous changes, namely grade 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, by 39% for those between age 16 and 18; 75% for those between 14 and 16; and 97% for those between 12 and 13. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, according to the Cleveland Clinic, is a precancerous condition in which abnormal cells grow on the cervix, and is usually caused by HPV. The third grade of the condition, the one which was studied, is the most severe form of the condition.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said in a statement that the research is a “historic moment” that will help thousands of women.
“We’ve been eagerly awaiting these results since the introduction of the vaccination programme,” Mitchell said. “Around 850 women die from cervical cancer each year in the UK, so we have the chance to save many lives.”
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