Cervical cancer vaccines may cut need for screening

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Using GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix vaccine to protect girls against the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer is so effective that health authorities could reduce the need for later cervical screening, scientists said on Wednesday.

Researchers from Finland and the United States who published two studies in The Lancet Oncology journal found Cervarix “offers excellent protection” against two key strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly when given to young adolescent girls before they become sexually active

The studies also found the vaccine partially protects against several other cancer-causing HPV types that it is not specifically designed to target, giving protection against a group of strains that together cause about 85 percent of cervical cancer worldwide.

“Provided that organised vaccination programs achieve high coverage in early adolescents before sexual debut, HPV vaccination has the potential to substantially reduce the incidence of cervical cancer, probably allowing the modification of screening programs,” said Matti Lehtinen from the University of Tampere in Finland, who worked on the studies.

He said that as a result of the findings health experts in Finland, one of the first countries to introduce nationwide HPV vaccination campaigns in 2007, should consider cutting cervical screening programs down to just a once-in-a-lifetime test at around the age of 25 to 30 to check the vaccine has been fully effective.

“You should not have two measures on top of each other if one is already efficient enough,” he said in a telephone interview. “This could certainly mean lots of savings in terms of costs of screening.”

GSK’s two-strain vaccine targets HPV types 16 and 18 that are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancers. Rival drugmaker Merck also makes an HPV vaccine called Gardasil which protects against 16, 18 and two other strains of the virus.

Lancet Oncology

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