The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV vaccine is having a positive effect in wealthy countries.
A study, observing 66 million young women and men, has shown how the effects of the virus have dropped dramatically in a number of wealthy countries.
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Infections, genital and anal warts, as well as precancerous lesions due to HPV have lowered thanks to the vaccine, which is becoming more widespread in certain countries.
This will most likely mean a much lower number of cervical cancer sufferers because this particular cancer develops largely in HPV-infected women.
The vaccine in numbers
The vaccine is so successful that when given to young women and girls, it gives partial protection to even unvaccinated girls and women, as well as young men and boys. The reason for this is that the vaccine provides protection in wider sexual networks as fewer people are carrying the virus.
The study was published on Thursday in the Lancet and focused on young men and women below the age of 30, in 14 wealthy countries where the HPV vaccine has been used since 2007.
Lead researcher of the study, Mélanie Drolet of Laval University in Canada said: “Our results provide strong evidence that HPV vaccination works to prevent cervical cancer in real-world settings.”
It’s still too early to tell the exact impact of the vaccination on cervical cancer numbers, according to Marc Brisson, co-author of the study and also at Laval University.
This is why the team focused their research on rates of HPV infection aside from precancerous lesions and anal and genital warts, which are the side-effects of the virus.
The team discovered that the prevalence of two strains of HPV that the vaccine protects against (there are over 100 strains of HPV, with only a handful leading to cervical cancer), dropped by 83 percent in teenage girls, and by 66 percent in young women aged between 22 and 24.
The incidence of anogenital (genital warts in or near the anus) warts also dropped by 67 percent in girls between 15 and 19 years old, and by 54 percent in young women under 25.
The authors also noticed a drop in unvaccinated men, by 48 percent in teenagers, and 32 percent in those aged 20-24.
The fact that young unvaccinated men’s rates are also dropping demonstrates how effective the vaccine is when given to young women.
The vaccine is predominantly only offered to young women. However, in countries where it is also provided to young men and women over the age of 20, the effects of protection were higher and quicker.
The HPV vaccine is mostly offered in higher income countries currently, with mid to lower income countries not yet rolling it out fully to young men and women.
Brisson said “Vaccinating girls in these countries would have the greatest impact on the worldwide burden of HPV-related cancers.”
The vaccine is certainly a step in the right direction to lowering cervical cancers around the world.