HPV Vaccine Could Mean 3 Pap Tests in a Lifetime

Peter Russell

November 13, 2017

Women who have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) jab may only need 3 smear tests for cervical cancer in their lifetime, a study suggests.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London say cervical screens when women are aged 30, 40 and 55 would offer the same benefit to vaccinated women as the 12 screens currently available in England.

The study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, comes ahead of planned changes to the screening programme in England which are set to be introduced in England by the end of 2019.

Currently, testing involves checking for abnormal cells within the cervix that could, if undetected and untreated, develop into cervical cancer. The new system will test for HPV first and only check for abnormalities if the virus is found.

Similar changes to the screening programme are being planned in Scotland and Wales.

Vaccinating Girls

Since 2008, there has been a national NHS programme to vaccinate girls aged 12 to 13 against HPV. This group is now reaching the age where they are due to receive their first screening invitation.

The current HPV jab, Gardasil, protects against the types of HPV responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers as well as giving protection against 90% of  genital warts.

The full benefit of the HPV vaccine occurs only if a person receives it before infection, which is why girls are being vaccinated before they become sexually active.

The latest research suggests that these vaccinated women can still be effectively protected from cervical cancer with fewer smear tests and with the added benefit of saving the NHS money.

Personalised Screening

The study also suggests that once the screening programme has been changed, women who have not been vaccinated should only need 7 screens during their lifetime – 5 fewer than the current standard.

"Our results clearly demonstrate that the screening programme should be personalised based on vaccination status," the authors conclude.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, says in a statement: "This is great news for women. The cervical screening programme is already very successful, and has led to a dramatic fall in deaths from the disease since its introduction.

"While we hope to see these improvements to the screening programme in the future, it's important that women continue to take up invitations for cervical screening. So, if you're all set for your next screen, keep that appointment."

Latest figures show that around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the UK. It causes around 890 deaths a year.

SOURCES

What cervical screening is appropriate for women who have been vaccinated against high risk HPV? a simulation study, Landy R et al, International Journal of Cancer

Cancer Research UK
 

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