Cervical cancer vaccine for 12-year-old girls

In collaboration with the Press Association

The government has announced that girls between the ages of 12 and 13 will routinely be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) from September 2008.

The announcement, made today (October 26th) by health secretary Alan Johnson, signals the government's aim to improve preventative measures, as the vaccine protects against the strains of the virus that cause around seven in ten cases of cervical cancer.

Government figures indicate that the programme will cost up to £100 million a year. In addition, a further £200 million is expected to be spent in 2009/10 and 2010/11 on a catch-up campaign designed to ensure that girls up to the age of 18 are protected against the virus.

"As a society we need to do more to prevent disease and not just treat it," said Mr Johnson.

"Prevention is always better than cure and this vaccine will prevent many women from catching the human papillomavirus in the first place, potentially saving around 400 hundred lives a year."

Harpal Kumar, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an exciting step towards preventing cervical cancer in the UK.

"While the vaccine has the potential to prevent many cases of the disease, the impact of a vaccination programme won't be felt for many years.

"Cervical screening remains vital in preventing the disease. We urge all women take up the invitation when they receive it."

The government has confirmed that the cervical screening programme will be continued after the introduction of the HPV vaccine, as the vaccine does not protect against all cancer-causing strains of HPV.

Mr Kumar continued: "The cervical screening programme is very effective. For women between 25 and 49, three-yearly screening prevents 84 cervical cancers out of every 100 that would develop without screening.

"Cancer Research UK's Screening Matters campaign encourages people to go for screening when invited, and to encourage friends and family to do the same."