A recent study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention provides more evidence that vaccination against the sexually transmitted virus HPV (human papillomavirus) is reducing the risk of cervical cancer in young women.
The researchers examined data from cases of precancerous cervical lesions reported to the CDC between 2008 and 2014, a period during which such lesions declined by 21 percent in women ages 18 to 39. At the same time, the proportion of cases involving two high-risk HPV strains (which cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers) targeted by the vaccines decreased by one-third. The biggest drops were seen in women ages 18 to 20, followed by those ages 21 to 29.
The incidence of high-risk HPV strains decreased in both vaccinated and unvaccinated women, indicating that vaccination leads to some degree of “herd immunity.” The vaccine also protects against other cancers caused by HPV, including cancers of the throat, vagina, vulva, penis, and anus, as well as genital warts.
The HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006 and is recommended for children ages 11 or 12, with a catch-up period through age 26. In October 2018, the FDA expanded its approval of the vaccine to men and women ages 27 to 45, and in June 2019, a CDC advisory panel said that some people through age 45 could benefit from the vaccine and should discuss it with their doctors. But it's not clear yet whether the CDC will extend its recommendation to that older age group.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.