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New Study Shows Promising Results for HPV Vaccines

While cervical cancer is not the killer it once was, the condition still affects thousands of women. In 2018, cervical cancer was responsible for 311,000 deaths. But thanks to diagnostic developments and the introduction of preventive treatments, like the HPV — or human papillomavirus — vaccine, these rates are dropping. And the immunization may be more promising than we initially hoped or thought. According to a new study, the HPV vaccine will likely cause a major drop in cervical cancer rates, and the treatment has already reduced the number of infections, precancerous lesions and warts young women face.

The research, conducted by the HPV Vaccination Impact Group and published in The Lancet, analyzed dozens of studies and included 66 million females and males. Researchers found that in countries where the vaccine had been distributed for more than five years, the rates of HPV infection decreased by 83 percent among teenage girls and 66 percent among young women. Anal and genital wart rates also dropped — by 67 percent and 54 percent, respectively — and the appearance of precancerous lesions declined by 51 percent among teens and 31 percent among women.

Of course, it is still too early to determine if (and how) the vaccine has affected cancer rates, but the reduction of precancerous lesions is encouraging.

“These results provide strong evidence of HPV vaccination working to prevent cervical cancer in real-world settings, as HPV infections — which are the cause of cervical cancer — and precancerous cervical lesions are significantly declining,” study author and professor Marc Brisson of Université Laval in Quebec said in a statement to USA Today. “We are working with the World Health Organization to determine when cervical cancer could be eliminated in different countries, [and] our results provide promising early signs that the World Health Organization [will] call for action.”

Currently, the World Health Organization recommends all girls ages 9 to 14 get the HPV vaccine, but some countries have different guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, suggests the vaccine be given to young women and men. Unfortunately, despite the potential and call to action, vaccination rates remain low, particularly in low- and middle-income countries and the United States — where less than half of American adolescents get the full course of HPV shots.

However, these results may persuade more parents to vaccinate their children. Caregivers have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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