Women who receive HPV jab may only require three cervical screens in a lifetime

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A study utilising computer modelling suggests that women given a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) may only require three cervical screens in their lifetime, as opposed to the current 12.

The findings of the Cancer Research UK-funded team at Queen Mary University of London have been covered by a wide range of media outlets, ranging from the BBC and Sky News to The Guardian, The Times and the Daily Mail.

In reaching their findings, the teams used computer simulations that were performed using Queen Mary’s MidPlus computational facilities, supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The results, published in the International Journal of Cancer, are based on how the HPV vaccine and the improved cervical screening programme will work best together. The new programme called ‘HPV primary testing’ is set to be introduced in England by December 2019. With regard to the current screening programme, experts stress that women should continue to take up invitations for cervical screening and keep all their appointments.

The new 'HPV Primary Testing' means that cervical samples are tested for HPV but only checked for abnormal cells if the virus is found. The current test checks for abnormalities first, which is less efficient. Scotland and Wales are also preparing their own plans to introduce this new HPV test.

Since 2008, the HPV vaccine has been offered to schoolgirls aged 11-13 across the UK. This group is now reaching the age for their first cervical screening invitation. This new research shows that these women can still be effectively protected from cervical cancer with fewer screens, which could also save the NHS resources. 

Lead author Professor Peter Sasieni from QMUL and Cancer Research UK's screening expert said: “The NHS should benefit from the investment that it’s made by introducing the vaccination programme. These women 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.”

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