Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

HPV Vaccination in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Pan American Health Organization
Health

HPV Vaccine Is 'Dramatically' Reducing Cervical Cancer Risk in the UK


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Some 300,000 women are losing their lives to cervical cancer globally every year, according to the World Health Organisation. And yet, as this research shows, these deaths are entirely preventable. Vaccinations are a vital tool in the effort to achieve Global Goal No.3 for health and wellbeing. Join the movement by taking action here in support of the Global Goals. 

In 2018, there were an estimated 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) — with 90% of cervical cancer deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. 

In Britain, meanwhile, cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women under 35. 

Now, a study from a team of researchers at Scottish universities has shown that the universal roll-out of the HPV vaccine has prompted a “dramatic” reduction in cervical cancer disease later in life. 

Take action: No Woman Should Suffer From Diseases We Know How to Treat or Prevent

In fact, the vaccine has “exceeded expectations”, according to the study published on Thursday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) — nearly wiping out cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women. 

“This is a veritable triumph for medicine,” wrote Tim Palmer, from the University of Edinburgh and clinical lead for cervical screening in Scotland, in the BMJ. 

The HPV immunisation programme was introduced in Britain back in 2009, with schoolgirls aged 12 or 13 routinely getting the vaccine. Girls can get the vaccination for free on the NHS up until their 18th birthdays — with about 90% of girls in Scotland reportedly getting the vaccine. 

Human papilomavirus (HPV) is a group of common viruses that are sexually transmitted — with some types being linked to cervical cancer. 

Related Stories Feb. 22, 2019 Cervical Cancer Could Basically Be Eliminated by 2100: Report

It was originally thought that the vaccine would eliminate two types of HPV — which combined cause about 80% of pre-cancerous conditions. 

The Scottish study, however, has now shown that it actually eliminates a further three types as well, according to the BBC — accounting for about 90% of cervical pre-cancer in Scotland. 

A team of researchers from Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow Caledonian universities analysed the vaccination and screening records for 140,000 women in Scotland, born between 1988 and 1996 for the study. The women had all had their first cervical screen between 2008 and 2016, at the age of 20. 

Dr Kevin Pollock, from Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “The main message is that the vaccine works. As long as the high uptake continues, the virus has got nowhere to go and it is being eliminated.” 

Related Stories March 1, 2019 Voice of America Malawi Rolls Out Massive Cervical Cancer Vaccination Program

“We assessed 140,000 women in this study and because we can link status of vaccination to the disease its impact is indisputable,” he added. 

And Palmer said: "One of the implications of this work is that considerably fewer women will have to live with the physical and psychological implications, including pregnancy loss, or colposcopy and treatment.” 

Globally, millions of doses of HPV vaccine have been given to women and, increasingly, men, Palmer said. He added that nowhere, including in the Scottish study, had any serious side-effects been demonstrably linked to the vaccine. 

He described the findings as “remarkable news,” and said that immunisation “offers the only feasible solution to preventing a cancer the cause of which is well established … in those areas of the world where the burden of the disease is greatest. It is also the most cost effective method in developed countries.”

Related Stories Jan. 22, 2018 Young Women Are Avoiding Cancer Smear Tests Because They’re Ashamed of Their Bodies

Interestingly, the study also noted a reduction in disease among unvaccinated women and men — indicating that mass vaccination prompts an interruption of HPV transmission nationwide.

Joe FitzPatrick, Scotland’s public health minister, reportedly said that plans are also in place to “build on this success” by extending the HPV vaccine programme to boys later this year.

The findings in Scotland reflect further research published in Lancet Oncology in February, that claimed scaling up HPV vaccinations and cervical screening programmes could lead to the global elimination of the cancer in 181 countries between 2020 and 2099. 

Related Stories May 4, 2018 It Hurts But It Works! This Is What Vaccinations Look Like Around the World

The report found that “widespread coverage of both HPV vaccination and cervical screening from 2020 onwards has the potential to avert up to 13.4 million cervical cancer cases by 2069, and could achieve cervical cancer incidence of around four per 100,000 women per year or less.” 

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Robert Music, also described the findings of the research as being “highly exciting.” 

He added that the findings “clearly demonstrate the impact of the HPV vaccine in protecting the cervical health of future generations.”