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HPV vaccination lowers cancer risk - even the unvaccinated benefit
A large overview study has shown that HPV vaccinations successfully protect against infections, thereby reducing the number of cervical cancer cases. Even unvaccinated people benefit from it. Health experts complain, however, that vaccination is still used very little in this country.
The third most common cancer in women
"Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women worldwide," explains the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in a message. According to experts, more than 500,000 women are diagnosed with it every year. This cancer is caused by human papilloma viruses (HPV), which infect the mucous membrane cells and cause them to proliferate uncontrollably. "Vaccines that prevent infection are available to protect against the carcinogenic viruses," writes the DKFZ. A new study by an international team of researchers has now shown that these substances are very effective.
Defeat cervical cancer
Just a few months ago, Australian researchers reported that cervical cancer could be eradicated worldwide in the next few decades.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also striving to eliminate cervical cancer.
A large overview study now shows that this goal could certainly be achieved. According to the study authors, national vaccination programs against HPV in young women significantly reduce the risk of early stages of cervical cancer.
The so-called herd immunity also benefits unvaccinated population groups such as older women and men.
The study results of the international research team led by Mélanie Drolet from the Université Laval in Quebec (Canada) were recently published in the specialist journal "The Lancet".
Individual risk of infection is significantly reduced
In the vast majority of cases, cervical cancer is caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV), which are transmitted during sexual intercourse.
To protect against the carcinogenic viruses, vaccines are available that prevent infection.
HPV vaccination was approved in Germany in 2007.
Last year, a scientific study had shown that this vaccination significantly reduces the individual's risk of infection.
The international research team around Drolet has now analyzed the consequences of national vaccination programs on a much larger scale.
The experts evaluated 65 studies from 14 high-income countries. In total, the studies, published between February 1, 2014 and October 11, 2018, collected data from around 60 million people.
Study authors speak of convincing evidence
The researchers compared the periods before and after the introduction of vaccination, in particular for questions regarding the development of HPV infections, diagnoses of anogenital warts (warts on the anus and genitals), and diagnoses of moderate to severe tumor precursors (CIN2 +).
"Our results show convincing evidence of the considerable influence of HPV vaccination programs on HPV infections," the authors write.
For the period of five to eight years after the introduction of the vaccines,
In girls aged 13 to 19 years, infections with HPV16 and HPV18 decreased on average by 83 percent and in women aged 20 to 24 years by 66 percent.
Infections with HPV variants 31, 33 and 45 also decreased in girls from 13 to 19 years by a good half (54 percent).
The authors also found that the diagnoses of anogenital warts in girls from 15 to 19 years by two thirds (67 percent), in women from 20 to 24 by one third (31 percent), in boys from 15 to 19 by half ( 48 percent) and by a third (32 percent) in men aged 20 to 24 years.
According to the researchers, population groups that were not themselves vaccinated also benefited from the vaccination programs.
Furthermore, the diagnoses of tumor precursors of grade CIN2 + decreased by half (51 percent) in girls from 15 to 19 years and by almost a third (31 percent) in women from 20 to 24 years.
According to the scientists, the strength of the effect depended on the vaccination rate and whether several or only individual cohorts were vaccinated.
Too few girls vaccinated
In Germany, the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends HPV vaccination for girls from 9 years of age.
Girls between nine and 14 years of age receive two vaccinations at intervals of five to 13 months for complete vaccination protection; three vaccinations are required for catch-up vaccination - from 15 years of age.
The costs for the complete vaccination of girls are covered by the health insurance, provided that the vaccinated are still under 18.
Unfortunately, according to a STIKO analysis at the end of 2016, only 31 percent of the 15-year-old girls were completely vaccinated.
No complete protection
"However, the vaccination does not offer complete protection against all cancer-causing papillomaviruses," said Bavaria's Minister of Health Melanie Huml in an older message.
"Therefore, cancer prevention at the gynecologist is still necessary, especially since other serious diseases of the uterus, ovaries or breast can be identified and treated as quickly as possible," said the politician, who is a doctor herself.
"The earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chances of a cure," said the minister. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- The Lancet: Population-level impact and herd effects following the introduction of human papillomavirus vaccination programs: updated systematic review and meta-analysis, (accessed: 01.07.2019), The Lancet
- German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ): Vaccination as therapy: Experimental vaccine against cervical cancer successfully tested on mice, (accessed: 01.07.2019), German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)
- Bavarian State Ministry of Health and Care: Huml campaigns for protection against cervical cancer in girls - Bavaria's Minister of Health: HPV vaccination lowers cancer risk, (accessed: 01.07.2019), Bavarian State Ministry of Health and Care