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HPV vaccine drives cancer causing infections down to very low levels

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The HPV vaccine has been highly successful Experts say the drop in HPV16 and 18 infections will feed through to lower rates of cervical cancer

HPV16 and 18 infections are now at a very low level in young sexually active women due to high rates of vaccination coverage, new data released by Public Health England (PHE) has shown.

The infections were found in less than 2% of 16 to 18-year-old women between 2014 and 2018, while in a sample of 584 young women tested in 2018, no HPV16 or 18 infections were detected. According to PHE, this is a dramatic reduction from 2008, when over 15% of young sexually active women were found to have these infections.

‘This is clear evidence of the success of our immunisation programme, which continues to achieve high coverage. With millions of young women protected by HPV vaccination, we expect to see big reductions in cervical cancer in years to come and the introduction of the boys’ programme will accelerate this progress,’ said Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist, Public Health England.

‘I encourage parents of all eligible girls and boys to ensure they take up this potentially life-saving vaccine when offered.’

Cervical cancer is currently the most common cancer in women under 35, killing about 850 women a year. HPV causes 99% of cervical cancers and types 16 and 18 are responsible for around 4 in 5 cases. The virus can also cause anal and penile cancer and some types of head and neck cancer. The prevalence of HPV 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts, also fell for the first time in 16 to 18-year-old women, from fluctuating around 7% to 10% between 2010 and 2017, down to 4% in 2018.

‘Thousands fewer women and men will be diagnosed with cancer as a result of the HPV vaccination programme and declining infection rates,’ said health minister Nicola Blackwood.

‘Our world-leading vaccination programmes are vital in protecting young children and preventing the spread of a host of awful diseases. It’s incredible to think that this vaccination is helping us eradicate cervical cancer for good.’

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