It has been known for some time that the HPV vaccine protects against human papillomavirus infection, genital warts, and cervical pre-cancer. However, from a large-scale study, researchers have now shown that the vaccine can also prevent invasive cervical cancer, the most severe form of the disease.
“This is the first time that we, on a population level, are able to show that HPV vaccination is protective not only against cellular changes that can be precursors to cervical cancer but also against actual invasive cervical cancer,” says Jiayao Lei, a researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and an author of the study.
“It is something we have long suspected but that we are now able to show in a large national study linking HPV vaccination and development of cervical cancer at the individual level.”
For the study, the researchers followed close to 1.7 million women aged between 10 and 30 for 11 years. Among the women, over 500,000 were vaccinated against HPV before the age of 17.
In the end, they found that while 19 vaccinated women were diagnosed with cervical cancer within the period, 538 unvaccinated women were also diagnosed. This equals out to 47 and 94 diagnoses per 100,000 women, thus showing that the HPV vaccine is likely protective against the condition.
In particular, the researchers found that HPV vaccination reduced the risk of developing cervical cancer by 88% among those vaccinated before the age of 17, and by around 50% if vaccinated between the ages of 17 and 30.
They say that the discrepancy in effectiveness may be because girls under the age of 17 are less likely to have been exposed to the HPV infection and that the HPV vaccination has no therapeutic effect against a pre-existing infection.
As such, the researchers conclude that their study shows that HPV vaccination may significantly reduce one’s risk of developing cervical cancer. They thus recommend that HPV vaccinations continue to be given to children and adolescents via national vaccination programs.