Women who have received vaccines for the human papilloma virus (HPV) may see the number of required screening slashed from 12 to 3, according to a new study by Queen Mary University.
The Cancer Research UK-funded study found that just 3 smear tests – at the age of 30, 40 and 55 – could provide the same benefit to those vaccinated as the currently offered 12 lifetime screenings.
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This is great news for women. The cervical screening programme is already very successful, and has led to a dramatic fall in deaths from the disease since its introduction.
‘While we hope to see these improvements to the screening programme in the future, it’s important that women continue to take up invitations for cervical screening.’
HPV is thought to cause around 99% of all cervical cancers, which is the most common cancer for women under the age of 35. It is one of the deadliest, yet most preventable, forms of cancer, causing the death of around 900 women every year in the UK.
Since 2008, the HPV vaccine has been offered to girls aged 11 to 13. This has led to a sharp fall in the number of cases of HPV. Currently, screenings test for abnormalities in cells taken in a smear test. The new tests, however, will first search for the presence of HPV and will only check for abnormalities if the virus is detected.
Professor Peter Sasieni, lead author of the study, argued that reducing the number of smear tests for vaccinated women could save the health service vital resources.
‘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.
‘This decision would free up resources for where they are needed most. The change in the screening system is a unique opportunity to reassess how often women are invited for cervical screens during their lifetimes,’ he said.