HPV vaccination 'will reduce number of smear tests needed'

Credit: PA

Women who have been given the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine may only need three cervical screenings in their lifetime, a study has said.

Researchers found that smear tests at the ages of 30, 40 and 55 could offer the same benefit to vaccinated women as the 12 currently offered.

Vaccinations against HPV have been offered to girls aged 11 to 13 since 2008, the virus is thought to cause almost all cervical cancers.

A team from Queen Mary University of London said that cutting the number of screenings for vaccinated women could save the NHS time and money.

Professor Peter Sasieni, Cancer Research UK's screening expert and lead author of the study, said: "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.

Credit: PA

"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."

The research, published in the International Journal of Cancer, comes ahead of changes to cervical testing set to be introduced in England by December 2019.

The new programme will see cervical samples tested for HPV but only checked for abnormal cells if the virus is found.

The current test checks for abnormalities first, which experts say is less efficient.

Scotland and Wales are also preparing their own plans to introduce this new HPV test.

The vaccine for HPV protects women against the most dangerous forms of the virus - which will infect most people at some point - and significantly reduces the chance of developing cervical cancer.

The study also suggests that women who are not vaccinated should only need seven lifetime screens when the new screening test comes in, five fewer than is currently standard.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is great news for women. The cervical screening programme is already very successful, and has led to a dramatic fall in deaths from the disease since its introduction.

Jade Goody died of cervical cancer aged just 27 in 2009. Credit: PA

"While we hope to see these improvements to the screening programme in the future, it's important that women continue to take up invitations for cervical screening. So if you're all set for your next screen, keep that appointment."

The news comes days after new figures revealed that less than three quarters of women are attending cervical cancer screening.

In 2009 reality TV star Jade Goody died at the age of 27 from cervical cancer. Following her death NHS data showed an increase in the number of women having smear tests rose by 12%.