Quirks & Quarks

HPV vaccine works 'remarkably well' to prevent cancer, according to UK study

Rates of cervical cancer dropped by 87 per cent in women who got the vaccine when they were 12 to 13 years old.

Rates of cervical cancer dropped by 87 per cent in women who got the vaccine when they were 12 to 13 years old

A 13-year-old girl gets the vaccine to prevent infections for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that can cause cancer. A new study out of the UK suggests the vaccine can reduce rates of cervical cancer by 87%, a number the researchers expect to increase in the future. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Scientists in the UK who are studying the effectiveness of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer discovered a nearly 90 per cent reduction in cervical cancer in women who were first vaccinated when they were 12 or13 years old. 

The virus, which is sexually transmitted, is behind almost every case of cervical cancer there is in women and can cause a variety of cancers — like head, neck and anal cancer — in men.

Beginning in the 2000s, countries around the world, including Canada and the UK, started vaccinating school-aged girls, and later boys.

An estimated 1,450 Canadian women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2021 and an estimated 380 will die from it, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. (Aizar Raldes/AFP via Getty Images)

It can take years after being infected for the virus to lead to cancer, which is why it has taken more than a decade to get data on how effective it is in preventing cancer. 

Peter Sasieni, a professor of cancer prevention at King's College London who led the research, said in an interview with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald that the vaccine performed even better than he anticipated.

He and his colleagues found an 87 per cent drop in cervical cancer rates in women who were 12 or 13 when vaccination began, and lower rates of protection for cohorts who were older at the time of vaccination. Sasieni said the drop in protection was in likely in part because the older women may have been infected before vaccination for their age group began.

Terry Patterson of home in Waterloo, Ontario was diagnosed with a tumour on his tonsil caused by HPV and began to advocate for young people to get vaccinated against the virus. (Hannah Yoon/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Produced and written by Sonya Buyting. Click on the interview at the top of the page to hear the interview with Peter Sasieni.