HPV vaccine reduces the need for smear tests

A bottle of the Human Papillomavirus vaccination

A bottle of the Human Papillomavirus vaccination

The vaccine for HPV protects women against the most risky forms of the virus - which will infect most people at some point - and significantly reduces the chance of developing cervical cancer.

For women who have had the jab, smear tests at the ages of 30, 40 and 50 are just as good as the 12 appointments offered at present, scientists argue.

The HPV vaccine has been offered to schoolgirls aged 11 to 13 across the United Kingdom since 2008 - and they will soon be invited for their first smear test.

The researchers highlighted that the initial cohort vaccinated under the immunisation programme was now reaching the age of their first cervical screening invite.

"These women are far less likely to develop cervical cancer so they don't need such stringent routine checking as those at a higher risk".

Researchers are not sure why the risk of cervical cancer drops so much, but one theory is that the devices stimulate an immune response that helps fight off cancer-causing infections like the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Cervical samples will be tested for HPV but only checked for abnormal cells if the virus is found.

The new programme called HPV primary testing is set to be introduced in England by December 2019.

Lead author Dr Rebecca Landy, medical statistician at the universty's Wolfson Institute, said: 'Our results confirm that even in unvaccinated women, screening intervals can be safely lengthened with the introduction of HPV testing with cytology triage, compared to cytology testing'.

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More research is needed to understand the mechanism at play.

A new study published today suggests women might only need to be tested seven times in total, because new tests being rolled out across the NHS are more sensitive.

"The change in the screening system is a unique opportunity to reassess how often women are invited for cervical screens during their lifetimes", he added.

The new study is based on predictions of how the vaccine and screening will work best together.

The Cancer Research UK-funded team at Queen Mary University of London said that cutting the number of screenings for vaccinated women could save the national health services' time and money.

"Cervical screening can be quite an uncomfortable experience, but I'm forever grateful that the test spotted my cancer early".

The current HPV vaccine available in the U.S., 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.

Unvaccinated women should only need seven-lifetime screens when the new screening test comes in, five fewer than is now standard, the study suggested.

'Screening attendance is falling across the United Kingdom and in England is now at 20-year low'.

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