Women vaccinated against HPV only need one smear for cervical cancer in lifetime, expert claims


Professor Peter Sasieni, a cancer expert at King's College London, said women given the HPV jab only need one smear for the disease in their lifetime

Professor Peter Sasieni, a cancer expert at King’s College London, said women given the HPV jab only need one smear for the disease in their lifetime

Women vaccinated against HPV may only need one smear test for cervical cancer in their lifetime, a leading scientist has said.

Women aged 25 to 49 are currently tested for the disease every three years, then every five years from age 50 to 64 – regardless of vaccine status 

But Professor Peter Sasieni — a top cancer prevention expert at King’s College London — said routine swabbing can be relaxed because of the ‘success’ of the vaccine.

The jab, offered to girls as young as 12, has slashed cervical cancer rates by nearly 90 per cent since being rolled out a decade ago. 

It prevents infection from human papillomavirus, a common group of viruses that are behind 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

Professor Sasieni told BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health radio programme: ‘We’ve now seen that cancers of the cervix have been reduced by over 80 per cent in (women in their 20s) regardless of whether they were vaccinated or not.

‘Amongst those who are vaccinated it is going to be an even greater reduction. A new vaccine will be used in the UK from September which protects against even more types of the virus.’ 

Asked whether women who are vaccinated still need to be swabbed routinely, he said ‘I don’t think they do. 

‘I think with that probably one screen will be enough, maybe two screens, over a lifetime.’

British Girls aged 12 to 13 were first offered the two-dose vaccine in 2008, with jabs given at least six months apart.  

And from 2019 was also made available to teenage boys. Men can get cancer from HPV and can also put women at increased risk by passing the virus through sexual contact. 

Cervical cancer rates were 87 per cent lower in British women who offered the vaccine in year 8 (red), landmark research published in The Lancet showed last year. For women who had the vaccine in years 10 or 11, rates of cervical cancer were 62 per cent lower and they were one third lower in women who had it in years 12 and 13

Cervical cancer rates were 87 per cent lower in British women who offered the vaccine in year 8 (red), landmark research published in The Lancet showed last year. For women who had the vaccine in years 10 or 11, rates of cervical cancer were 62 per cent lower and they were one third lower in women who had it in years 12 and 13

It provides the first proof the NHS vaccination programme — launched for teenage girls in 2008 — is saving lives. A new HPV vaccine, Gardasil — which offers an even higher level of protection — is to be used for the HPV programme in schools from September

It provides the first proof the NHS vaccination programme — launched for teenage girls in 2008 — is saving lives. A new HPV vaccine, Gardasil — which offers an even higher level of protection — is to be used for the HPV programme in schools from September

Around 3,200 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed every year in Britain, leading to more than two deaths a day. 

The NHS spends around £21 million a year treating and screening for the disease.  

More than 80 per cent of eligible women in the UK, or 10million, have received the vaccine.

Among women now in their twenties — the first generation to get the jab — cases have now dropped from about 50 per year to just five.  

From September a new jab, called Gardasil 9 and made by pharmaceutical giant Merck, will be offered to protect against even more strains of HPV.

WHAT IS HPV? THE INFECTION LINKED TO 99% OF CERVICAL CANCER CASES 

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body. 

Spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex and skin-to-skin contact between genitals, it is extremely common. 

Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives.

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 of which can affect the genital area. Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious.

Many people never show symptoms, as they can arise years after infection, and the majority of cases go away without treatment.

It can lead to genital warts, and is also known to cause cervical cancer by creating an abnormal tissue growth.

Annually, an average of 38,000 cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the US, 3,100 cases of cervical cancer in the UK and around 2,000 other cancers in men.

What others cancers does it cause? 

  • Throat
  • Neck
  • Tongue
  • Tonsils
  • Vulva
  • Vagina
  • Penis
  • Anus

Professor Sasieni — who is the director of KCL’s clinical trial unit — said the impact of the vaccine on cancer rates was ‘really exciting’.

Asked whether the number of screenings done could be reduced, he said women could instead be screened just three times at 30, 40 and 55 years old.

But he added even this would be in an abundance of caution because of the enormous success of the jabs.

‘It is a big change and the policymakers will want to make sure that’s a good thing,’ he said.

‘And that the public won’t see it as some sort of saving money and taking screening away from us. It’s not. The vaccine has been so successful that this makes perfect sense. ‘

He also raised the prospect that booster jabs may be needed, saying: ‘We don’t know for certain that vaccinating someone aged 12 is going to protect them when they’re 45 years old.

‘We believe it will be but it may be necessary to have a booster. 

‘Women who were vaccinated 12 to 13 are coming through and being invited for cervical screening now so we really want to make those changes over the next couple of years.’ 

Professor Sasieni said there are disadvantages about screening too often.

‘It’s more inconvenient for women, it’s expensive and the more screening we do the more women who will be treated.

‘The majority of women who get treated need that treatment but some of them would have recovered spontaneously without that treatment.

‘So there’s a balance. If you’re going to use the HPV test, they don’t think you need to screen more than once every five years.’

It comes amid calls for millions of young men to be offered ‘catch-up’ HPV vaccines.

Boys aged 12 to 13 have only been able to get the jab in England and Wales since September 2019.

But amid a growing body of research showing the vaccine is highly effective, experts have called for more to be inoculated to help eradicate the disease. 

Health chiefs have so far ruled out a catch-up programme, despite offering millions of young women when the jabs were initially rolled out.

Charities have urged the Government to ‘think again and do the right thing’, calling on ministers to U-turn and offer the vaccine to all young men aged up to 26 who’ve missed out on the scheme.

The current inoculation drive ‘doesn’t go nearly far enough’ and leaves boys ‘playing a lottery with their future health’, they said.

Men can get cancer from HPV, and can also put women at increased risk by passing the virus through sexual contact. 

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