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Vaccines could mean only one smear test a lifetime

Women who have the HPV vaccine may need only one smear test to prevent cervical cancer in their lifetime, according to a leading scientist.

Women are currently invited for screening every three to five years in the UK. But Prof Peter Sasieni said the vaccine was leading to such dramatic reductions in cancer that the screening programme would need to change soon.

The NHS invites women, and people with a cervix, for regular screening. Swabs of the cervix are used to check for signs of abnormalities using a microscope (the traditional smear test) or more recently to test for the virus itself.

 However, a seismic shift in preventing cervical cancer started in the UK in 2008 with the introduction of the HPV vaccine. It is offered to girls (and boys since 2019) aged between 11 and 13.

Research published in December shows the vaccine is cutting cervical cancer by nearly 90% in those who choose to have the jab.

"This is really exciting," Prof Sasieni, the director of the clinical trials unit at King's College London, told Inside Health on BBC Radio 4.

His modelling suggests between one and three checks a lifetime would be appropriate for people who have been immunised.

"There's a new vaccine which will be used in the UK from the next school year, which protects against even more types of the virus, and I think with that probably one screen would be enough, maybe two, over a lifetime."

However, the Department of Health and Social Care said one in three people do not come for screening when invited, and a spokesperson added: "The NHS Cervical Screening programme remains an important way of protecting the population - including those who have not been vaccinated - from developing cervical cancer."

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Source: BBC News, 2 March 2022


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