Behind the Headlines - HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer

Date: 10 November 2017

Research published today in the International Journal of Cancer suggests women who have received the HPV vaccine will need fewer cervical screenings.

But what does this mean for women in Yorkshire?

We’ve put together some simple information to help you understand the story behind the headlines.

What is cervical screening?

Women aged 25-49 are currently invited to take part in cervical screening every three years, while women aged 50-64 are invited every five years.

Cervical screening, previously known as a smear test, is used to find early changes to cells in the cervix. A soft small brush is used to collect cells from the cervix, and these are then analysed for any unusual changes.

If abnormal cells are found, they can be checked or removed before cancer is able to develop.

What is the HPV vaccine?

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a family of viruses called ‘human papilloma virus’ (HPV). The virus is very common, and is spread by skin-to-skin and genital contact.

That’s why the NHS introduced a HPV vaccination programme in 2008. The programme is offered to girls aged 12-13 and protects women from two types of HPV which cause more than 7 in 10 cervical cancers.

The HPV vaccine significantly reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer, but it does not mean that screening is no longer required.

What did the study find?

The study, carried out by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, found that vaccinated women could potentially be screened fewer times because they have a lower risk of developing cervical cancer.

Women are currently offered screening 12 times during their lifetime. But the researchers suggest that screening vaccinated women just three times – at the ages of 30, 40 and 55 – will have the same benefit.

What does this mean for me?

For now, nothing has changed.

Women aged 25-49, whether they have received the vaccine or not, will still be invited to attend screening every three years, and women aged 50-64 will still be invited every five years.

The government has made no changes to the screening programme, and more research is needed before any decisions are made.

Why is screening important?

Screening remains an important tool in the prevention of cervical cancer.

More than 200 women in Yorkshire are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. But we can help to lower this number by ensuring everyone attends screening appointments.

A quarter of women living in the region do not take part in screening when invited. During 2015/16, more than 300,000 women in Yorkshire failed to attend appointments.

So if you think you’ve missed an appointment or you would like more information about the programme, please talk to a doctor or nurse.

It could save your life.

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