The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which is offered to young women across the UK, has been found to be safe and effective against the cancer causing virus.
A systematic review by the Cochrane Group looked at 26 trials which involved 73,000 participants and found that the vaccine is protective.
‘This study adds to the wealth of growing evidence from around the world which shows that the HPV vaccine is the most effective way for young girls to protect themselves against cervical cancer,’ said Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE).
The NHS offers the vaccine free for young women between 12 and 18 years old. It protects them against strands of the human papilloma virus which can cause changes to cells in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer.
The Gardasil jab protects women against strains 16, 18, 6, and 11 of HPV – 16 and 18 have the highest risk of developing into cancer.
HPV is a very common infection and spread by skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex. Most people who are infected are symptomless and usually the virus clears up on its own, but when it stays in the system, it can cause cancer.
‘Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that can be largely prevented through the fantastic cervical screening and HPV vaccination programmes we are fortunate to have, this review clearly demonstrates the role of the vaccine in reducing precancerous cells,’ said Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which supports women with cervical cancer.
Mr Music also echoed many health professionals’ calls to extend the vaccine to boys as well. He argued this is necessary both because boys can spread HPV, and the virus can develop into other cancers which will affect them, such as throat, anal and penile cancer.