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  1. ITV Report

Cervical cancer survivor welcomes HPV vaccine success for schoolgirls

A cervical cancer survivor has hailed the “amazing news” that research suggests a national vaccination programme in schools has dramatically cut the disease in later life in Scotland.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually-transmitted infection and some types are linked to cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers in women under 35 in the UK.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was rolled out a decade ago across the UK for school girls aged 12 and 13.

After a study in the British Medical Journal showed a reduction in abnormal cells since the vaccine’s introduction, Laura McAdam said she wishes it had been around when she was at school.

A UK-wide immunisation programme for girls aged 12 and 13 was introduced a decade ago. Credit: David Cheskin/PA

The 33-year-old from Ayrshire was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 after a routine smear test uncovered changes in her cervix, despite having no symptoms.

She said: “If this injection they are giving at schools now is wiping this out then that is amazing news and I’m definitely all for it.

“I wouldn’t wish what has happened to me on my worst enemy. Although I’ve had treatment I don’t think my nightmare will ever really be over as I’ll constantly be worrying if they got all the cancer or if it’s come back.

“I would advise all girls to get vaccinated because there is proof that it works. I would also advise women to go for smear tests. It was a smear test that saved my life.”

Since her diagnosis, she has had laser treatment, a hysterectomy and lymph nodes removed and has a scan every six months.

Ms McAdam encourages girls to go for smear tests. Credit: PA

Researchers looked at the impact of routine vaccination on levels of abnormal cells and cervical lesions, known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, or CIN, among women.

The higher the CIN grade, the higher the risk is of developing invasive cancer.

The team, led by Tim Palmer at the University of Edinburgh, analysed vaccination and screening records for 138,692 women born between 1988 and 1996 who had a screening test result recorded at age 20.

They found that compared with unvaccinated women born in 1988, vaccinated women born in 1995 and 1996 showed an 89% reduction in CIN grade 3 or worse, an 88% reduction in CIN grade 2 or worse, and a 79% reduction in CIN grade 1.

Unvaccinated women also showed a reduction in disease,suggesting that interruption of HPV transmission in Scotland has created substantial “herd protection”, researchers said.

The study, published by the BMJ, concludes: “Routine vaccination of girls aged 12-13 years with the bivalent HPV vaccine in Scotland has led to a dramatic reduction in preinvasive cervical disease.

“The bivalent vaccine is confirmed as being highly effective vaccine and should greatly reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.

“The findings will need to be considered by cervical cancer prevention programmes worldwide.”

Dr Kevin Pollock co-authored the study published in the BMJ. Credit: Peter Devlin/PA

Dr Kevin Pollock, senior research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University and study co-author, said: “The conclusion is that the vaccine has exceeded expectation.

“It is associated with near elimination of both low and high grade cervical disease in young Scottish women eight years after the vaccine programme started.

“The figures are impressive and show a reduction of up to 90% of cervical disease abnormalities – pre-cancerous cells.

“These data are consistent with the reduced circulation of high-risk HPV infection in Scotland and confirm that the HPV vaccine should significantly reduce cervical cancer in the next few years.

“Indeed, cervical cancer cases in women aged 20-24 have reduced by 69% since 2012.”

Scotland’s Public Health Minister Joe Fitz Patrick said: “I welcome this positive news in the report from the BMJ.

“In Scotland, uptake for the HPV immunisation programme remains high and continues to exceed 80%.

“We remain committed to ensuring Scottish girls benefit from this vaccine, which, as this study shows, will save lives.

“We are, of course, building on this success and extending the HPV vaccine programme to boys later this year.”