Study: HPV Vaccine Reduced U.K. Cervical Cancer Rates by 87%

woman getting vaccinated

Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • New data has revealed that cervical cancer rates in the United Kingdom plummeted after the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in 2008. The rates of cervical cancer were lowest in people who were vaccinated at ages 12 and 13.
  • Anyone can get HPV. In addition to cervical cancer, HPV infection is also linked to other forms of cancer and conditions like genital warts.
  • Doctors said that the study’s findings underscore the importance of the HPV vaccine.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is designed to help protect people against the forms of the HPV virus that can lead to cervical cancer.

A new study has found that the HPV vaccine has dramatically lowered cervical cancer rates in the United Kingdom since it was introduced in 2008.

What Did the Study Look at?

The study, which was published in The Lancet, analyzed data from a population-based cancer registry in the U.K. The researchers looked for diagnoses of cervical cancer and CIN3 (abnormal cells that grow in the cervix that can lead to cancer) in women ages 20 to 64 years old from January 1, 2006, to June 30, 2019.

The researchers found that rates of cervical cancer were 87% lower in women who were given the HPV vaccine between the ages of 12 and 13 compared to previous generations.

The rates shifted slightly according to the age at which a woman got the HPV vaccine; the rate was 62% lower in those who were vaccinated between the ages of 14 and 16, and 34% lower in women who were vaccinated between ages 16 and 18.

What Do the Findings Mean?

The researchers estimated that by June 30, 2019, there had been 448 fewer cervical cancers than expected and 17,235 fewer cases of CIN3 in people who were vaccinated.

The researchers wrote that they “observed a substantial reduction in cervical cancer and incidence of CIN3 in young women after the introduction of the HPV immunization program in England, especially in individuals who were offered the vaccine at age 12–13 years.”

Jennifer Wider, MD

This is an incredible tool in lowering the rate of cancer and dramatically lessening the individual risk.

— Jennifer Wider, MD

Therefore, they concluded that “the HPV immunization program has successfully almost eliminated cervical cancer in women born since Sept 1, 1995.”

In a statement, Peter Sasieni, PhD, a coauthor of the study from King’s College London, said that “it’s been incredible to see the impact of HPV vaccination, and now we can prove it prevented hundreds of women from developing cancer in England.”

Sasieni added that researchers have “known for many years that HPV vaccination is very effective in preventing particular strains of the virus, but to see the real-life impact of the vaccine has been truly rewarding.”

If people continue to get the HPV vaccine and get screened for the virus, Sasieni said that cervical cancer will become a “rare disease.”

What Is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In 2018, there were about 43 million HPV infections in the country, mostly in people in their late teens and early 20s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are different types of HPV, and some can cause genital warts and cancers. HPV is spread by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It can be passed on even when a person who is infected has no symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV.

HPV typically goes away on its own and does not cause health problems. However, in some cases, it can lead to genital warts or cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and throat cancers.

How Common Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer affects the cervix, which connects the vagina to the uterus. All people with a cervix are at risk for developing cervical cancer, although it develops most commonly in people over the age of 30. Long-lasting infection with certain types of HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, 14,480 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year and an estimated 4,290 women will die from the disease.

About the HPV Vaccine

The CDC recommends that all preteens get the HPV vaccine when they are between ages 11 and 12. The vaccine is part of a series where doses are given 6 to 12 months apart.

While the HPV vaccine is not recommended for people over the age of 26, some adults up to age 45 may get the vaccine if they’re at a higher risk for HPV infection.

What Doctors Think

“This data is good,” Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, told Verywell, noting that rates of oropharyngeal cancers in men are also coming down.

Mary Jane Minkin, MD

This is one direct way to prevent cancer—so why not do it?

— Mary Jane Minkin, MD

Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, told Verywell Health that the study’s findings are “great,” and that “the stats underscore the effectiveness of the vaccine and should be reassuring to people contemplating the vaccine.”

Wider said that the research offers “validation” that the HPV vaccine works, and that “it is safe, effective, and dramatically reduces the risk of cervical cancer.”

People who are hesitant to get vaccinated against HPV need to look at the data. “The study speaks for itself,” Wider said. “This is an incredible tool in lowering the rate of cancer and dramatically lessening the individual risk.”

“We are always talking about ways to prevent cancer,” Minkin said. “This is one direct way to prevent cancer—so why not do it?”

What This Means For You

The HPV vaccine can dramatically lower your risk of developing cervical cancer, as well as other forms of cancer. Vaccinating children when they are 11 or 12 years old can dramatically lower their risk.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Falcaro M, Castañon A, Ndlela B, et al. The effects of the national HPV vaccination programme in England, UK, on cervical cancer and grade 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia incidence: a register-based observational study. Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(21)02178-4

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV infection—fact sheet.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic information about cervical cancer.

  4. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for cervical cancer.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination: what everyone should know.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.