New research has shown that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has reduced the highest grade of cervical pre-cancer by almost 90%. The study involved a collaboration of researchers from Health Protection Scotland, Information Services Division and the Scottish Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Reference Laboratory all within NHS Scotland, and the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde. This follows a recent study which showed large reductions in HPV infection in girls eligible for vaccination.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women aged under 35 in the UK and caused the deaths of more than 800 women in 2016. Infection with HPV types 16 and 18 is known to be the cause of at least 80 per cent of cases in Scotland. Recent population-based studies suggest that HPV also plays a part in causing other cancers, particularly head-and-neck, vulvo-vaginal and anal cancers.
Since the start of the Scottish HPV immunisation programme in 2008, uptake of the vaccine has exceeded 85% every year and these results are welcomed as they highlight the success of the programme in protecting girls against cervical pre-cancer
The research also highlights the success of the work of the Scottish Immunisation Programme which set up the HPV immunisation programme and continues to co-ordinate the delivery of the programme. The results will also be welcomed by the many healthcare workers that are involved at all levels in the delivery of the vaccination programme in schools.
In future years, the massive reduction in cervical pre-cancer should translate to reductions in cervical cancer which will be closely monitored by Health Protection Scotland as part of the work of the Scottish Immunisation Programme. These results are promising for the potential future impact of the upcoming extension of the programme to boys on other HPV driven cancers.