Another Reason to Back the HPV Vaccine: Fewer Cervical Cancer Screenings

The HPV vaccine has proven to be such a potent protector against cervical cancer that some clinicians now believe we could safely reduce the number of screenings women undergo in the UK.

Publishing in the “International Journal of Cancer,” researchers from Queen Mary University of London examined the schedule of 12 lifetime smear tests that are currently recommended by clinical guidelines in the UK. Given what we know about the HPV vaccine’s powers to prevent cervical cancer, in addition to improved screening, the researchers wanted to explore if all of those screening were still warranted. 

They found that reducing the schedule to just three screenings at age 30, 40 and 55 respectively would be sufficient to monitor the signs of cervical cancer for most people given the HPV vaccine.

Professor Peter Sasieni, lead author of the study, explained:

[Women who have the vaccine] 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.

Changes to screening procedures are set to be introduced in 2019, and this research is meant to advise on those modifications. The research also found that reducing the screening intervals from 12 to seven would be sufficient for most women — regardless of whether they’d had the vaccine. This is due to innovations in smear tests that allow for more accurate insights.

However, it’s important to stress that these are simply recommendations. Women should continue to undergo routine screenings, as they offer one of the best ways to catch any potential cancer problems.

The HPV Vaccine: What is it, and why is it important for cancer protection?

The HPV vaccine, known as “Gardasil 9, Gardasil, and Cervarix,” protects from the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV).

According to the CDC, HPV is incredibly common, with around 80 million people — or one out of every four — currently infected in the United States. That sounds like a high number of cases, but for many people, HPV will never be a problem. That’s because as many as nine out of every 10 infections will be dealt with by our bodies without serious consequence. It’s estimated that by two years after infection, most people will be symptom-free, having eradicated the virus.

However, for a minority, that isn’t true. HPV infection can outlast this two-year window — and for some people, it can cause serious infections and even cancers.

In fact, HPV dramatically increases the risks of cancer of the cervix, vagina and vulva — HPV is believed to be the leading cause for cervical cancers. For men and those with male-typical genitalia, it can increase the risk of cancers of the penis. Both men and women face increased risks of throat and anal cancers as a result of HPV, too.

The problem is, we can’t yet tell who is at this greater risk from HPV — and, therefore, the associated greater risk of cancer. And that’s where the HPV vaccine comes in.

The CDC recommends that all children over 11 or 12 years receive two shots of the HPV vaccine between six to twelve months apart — or if a longer break is needed, a further third dose of the vaccine to ensure protection. Older teenagers can also be given the vaccine, requiring three doses of the vaccine over a shorter six-month period. Adults may also be eligible at the discretion of their doctors.

Fortunately, the HPV vaccine has almost 100 percent effectiveness at preventing HPV infection among healthy young people. While it cannot guard against those people developing cancers, it can virtually rule out people developing cancers related to HPV — a massive success story that has prompted this review of clinical guidelines on smear tests.

Vaccine safety: The evidence is in

Despite its proven success at preventing cervical cancers, HPV vaccine uptake has been slow.

That’s because anti-vaccine groups have promoted individual cases of people potentially experiencing a bad reaction to the vaccine or exhibiting health problems a short time after having the vaccine.

However, these groups fail to mention the extensive testing that Gardasil and Cervarix have undergone. The CDC notes:

Gardasil® 9 was studied in clinical trials with more than 15,000 females and males; Gardasil® was studied in clinical trials with more than 29,000 females and males, and Cervarix® was studied in trials with more than 30,000 females. … Like any vaccine or medicine, HPV vaccines can cause side effects. The most common side effects are pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given; dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache. HPV vaccination is typically not associated with any serious side effects. The benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any potential risk of side effects.

In fact, for every million doses of the vaccine given, only around three people will suffer an allergic reaction. Allergies are usually spotted within the first ten to fifteen minutes, and all staff who administer the vaccine are equipped to deal with such cases.

All major health bodies recommend the HPV vaccine for healthy children and young women. Therefore, there’s no convincing evidence against the HPV vaccine, but plenty of evidence in its favor. As with all vaccines, vaccine safety is constantly monitored and periodically reassessed, meaning that studies into the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness will continue to ensure it lives up to its promise.

In the meantime, the news of potentially reduced smear test screenings for individuals who have had the HPV vaccine will no doubt be a relief. Again, though, women should continue to attend screenings when they are offered, but this vaccine points to a future where these often uncomfortable and daunting tests will be kept to a minimum.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

38 comments

Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E6 days ago

@ Linda D
Another "Member" with NO profile who hides behind statements like "Lies, and more lies..."
Then she sends you to a site run by a man names Sayer ji who says modern medicine is like cannibalism (paraphrased).
Please DO go and read his propaganda and then do your own research on sites that your family physician, health unit, hospital, etc., can recommend.
It is folks like Linda D that give you misleading and often false information

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Peggy B
Peggy B6 days ago

I wish they had this when I was young. My sister as well. My daughter in law is a Nurse Practitioner and she will be getting her daughter vaccinated when she is a bit older.

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Winn Adams
Winn A6 days ago

Thanks

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Linda D
Linda D7 days ago

Lies, and more lies, see the real truth here:
http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/hpv-vaccines-unnecessary-and-lethal

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 days ago

Now we have the Vac put it to good use Wonderful Aussie who created it Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 days ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 days ago

Very interesting article Thank you for caring and sharing

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Anne Moran
Anne Moran7 days ago

We have the facts,, now let's do it...

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Cruel Justice
Cruel J7 days ago

I'm not getting the vaccine, but I only have to make that decision for myself, no one else.

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