Study suggests girls need cervical screen reminder following HPV vaccination

In collaboration with Adfero

A Cancer Research UK-funded study, by scientists at the University of Oxford, has found that many girls and their parents do not understand the importance of attending cervical screening after they have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

The NHS HPV vaccination programme was launched in autumn 2008, giving girls aged 12 to 13 the chance to have the vaccine, which prevents at least seven out of ten cancers of the cervix.

But as the vaccine does not protect against all cancer-causing strains of the virus, these girls should still go for cervical screening when they're older - even if they've had all three doses of the vaccine.

Yet researchers at the University of Oxford found some girls and their parents thought that having the vaccine meant they would not need to go for cervical screening in the future.

The researchers interviewed parents and their teenage daughters about their understanding of the HPV vaccination and the need for cervical cancer screening as they got older.

They found that some parents based their decision to agree for their daughters to have the vaccine thinking they would not need to go for cervical screening in future. And the girls themselves also lacked a good understanding of the importance of cervical screening.

Study author, Dr Alison Clements, who presented the findings at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Academic Primary Care in Bristol yesterday (July 7th), said: "For informed decisions about HPV vaccination to be made, the provision of information about the ongoing need to attend cervical screening is imperative.

"Our findings have the potential to improve information and educational materials for parents, eligible girls and health professionals. To ensure the uptake of cervical screening is not adversely affected, future invitations for screening will need to stress the importance of attendance regardless of whether the individual has had the HPV vaccination or not."

Hazel Nunn, Cancer Research UK's senior health information manager, said that renewed efforts are needed to ensure girls and their families understand the importance of cervical screening.

She explained: "While the vaccine is very effective at protecting against the two strains of virus which cause most cases of cervical cancer, and one of the biggest steps forward in public health in recent years, it does not protect against all the other strains so the disease can still develop.

"Cervical screening can prevent around 45 per cent of cervical cancers in women in their 30s, rising to 75 per cent in women in their 50s and 60s. Women should be reminded of the crucial role of screening in the fight against cervical cancer."

References

  • Clements A et al, "A false sense of security?" Understanding the role of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine on future cervical cancer screening behaviour - a qualitative study of UK parents and girls of vaccination age. Conference abstract