Experts predict 'major decrease' in cervical cancer rates

In collaboration with the Press Association

Cancer scientists believe that the ongoing progress into research on cervical cancer should bring about a worldwide reduction in rates of the disease.

Writing in the medical journal the Lancet, researchers at the US National Cancer Institute said that, thanks to innovative technology and a better understanding of the development of cervical cancer, there is an "enlarging repertoire" of options for prevention.

Led by Professor Mark Schiffman, the team said that cervical cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women in many developing countries, tending to affect young women with families.

However, they noted: "Promising approaches to cervical cancer prevention have resulted from our new understanding that almost all cases are caused by persistent infection with about 15 genotypes of human papillomavirus (HPV)."

There are over 100 different strains of the HPV virus, only a few of which have been linked to cancer.

"Because of the importance of the problem and the feasibility of ameliorating it, we hope to see a major decrease in the numbers of women affected with this cancer within our lifetimes."

The Department of Health is currently considering the introduction of a vaccination programme for 12 and 13-year-old girls with the vaccine Gardasil, which has been approved for use in the UK and prevents infection by HPV 16 and 18 - the strains that cause about 70 per cent of cases.

Ed Yong, Cancer Research UK's health information officer, commented: "Vaccines against HPV are an exciting development and they could help to prevent about 70 per cent of cervical cancers in the future.

"But there are many questions about the vaccines that still need to be answered, including how long the immunity they provide lasts for.

"For the moment, going for cervical screening is the best way of preventing cervical cancer and even with the vaccines around, it will still have an important role to play."