HPV vaccine after removal of precancerous cells may cut cervical cancer risk

HPV vaccine after removal of precancerous cells may cut cervical cancer risk

Study finds reduced risk of cervical cancer recurring after HPV vaccination post-surgery, though further research is needed

Nurse holding syringe

Giving women the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine when precancerous lesions are removed from their cervix may cut the risk of cells recurring and them getting cervical cancer, a study has found.

Cases of cervical cancer in the UK have fallen hugely since school pupils aged 13 and 14 – first girls and later boys – began being offered HPV jabs in 2008 as protection against the disease.

But new findings suggest the vaccine may have a second key role in thwarting cervical cancer. British researchers believe that administering a dose of it to women around the time they have surgery to remove precancerous cells might stop them coming back.

“HPV vaccination is highly effective at preventing the development of precancerous cervical lesions (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN),” according to their findings, which have been published in the British Medical Journal.

CIN means that abnormal changes of cells that line the cervix have been detected. If left untreated they can develop into cervical cancer. There are three forms of CIN, known as CIN1, 2 and 3.

The study team, led by Maria Kyrgiou of Imperial College London, analysed 18 previous papers on the subject. They found that people who had been vaccinated against HPV had a 57% lower risk of high-grade preinvasive disease (CIN2+) recurring than those who had not had the jab.

The risk was reduced by even more – 74% – when the chances of CIN2+ recurring were assessed for HPV16 and HPV18, the two types of the virus that cause many cases of cervical cancer.

However, the authors stressed that the evidence for those reductions was “inconclusive” and that large-scale randomised control trials were needed to confirm that vaccination conferred that benefit.

“We are pleased to see emerging research into the value of using the HPV vaccine to prevent the recurrence of cervical cell changes, and look forward to seeing further large-scale studies into the effectiveness of this method,” said Eluned Hughes, head of information and engagement at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

While HPV jabs had cut cases of cervical cancer by 87% since 2008, women over 27, who could not get it, are still at increased risk of developing the disease.

Alice Davies, a health information manager at Cancer Research UK, was cautious about the findings.

“This study looked at whether the HPV vaccine can stop further cell changes happening after people have had treatment to remove abnormal cells caused by HPV infection. But it’s still too early to say if using the vaccine in this way is beneficial, and larger high-quality studies and trials are needed.”