In a study published last week in The Lancet, the researchers followed the outcome of the Cervarix vaccine, which was introduced in England in 2008 and protects against the two most common types of HPV.
Using data from a population-based cancer registry between January 2006 and June 2019, the study looked at seven groups of women between the ages of 20 and 64.
Cervarix protects against two strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cancer. Since 2012, the U.K. has also been using another vaccine called Gardasil that protects against four types of HPV and was not evaluated in the paper.
In the study, three vaccinated cohorts were compared with earlier cohorts that were not eligible for HPV vaccination.
The study found that cervical cancer rates were 87% lower in girls getting the shot at age 12-13, 62% lower in girls 14-16 and 34% lower in girls 16-18, compared with previous unvaccinated generations.
“We estimated that by June 30, 2019, there had been 448 fewer than expected cervical cancers and 17,235 fewer than expected cases … in vaccinated cohorts in England,” the researchers wrote.
“It’s been incredible to see the impact of HPV vaccination, and now we can prove it prevented hundreds of women from developing cancer in England. We’ve known for many years that HPV vaccination is very effective in preventing particular strains of the virus, but to see the real-life impact of the vaccine has been truly rewarding,” Peter Sasieni, the lead author, said in a statement to King’s College London.
“Assuming most people continue to get the HPV vaccine and go for screening, cervical cancer will become a rare disease. This year we have already seen the power of vaccines in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. These data show that vaccination works in preventing some cancers,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 100 types of HPV, of which at least 14 are cancer-causing.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, with an estimated 570,000 new cases in 2018.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus, with about 43 million infections reported in 2018.
Cancer may take decades to develop after a person is infected with HPV.
A type of Gardasil that protects against nine types of HPV is currently the only vaccine distributed in the U.S., according to the CDC.