HPV Vaccine May Reduce Abnormal Pap Results for Young Women

Jennifer G. Allen
Published Online: Thursday, July 21st, 2016
Young women who get all 3 doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine have fewer cervical cell anomalies in the future, recent study results found.
 
Researchers looked at Alberta province health data on HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings, looking for a possible link between immunizations and Pap test results.
 
The study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal identified 10,204 young women 18 to 21 years who had a Pap smear between 2012 and 2015. Of the study participants, 56% had never received an HPV vaccine, while 44% had received at least 1 dose of HPV vaccine through a school-based program initiated in 2008.
 
Of the women who had been vaccinated, 84% received 3 or more doses, although the intervals between shots varied and didn’t necessarily adhere to the minimum 6-month waiting period needed to develop lasting immunity. Among the unvaccinated women, 16.1% had cervical abnormalities in their pap smears, compared with 11.8% in the fully vaccinated group.
 
It’s believed that high-risk strains of HPV are responsible for virtually all cases of cervical cancer (>99%), as they can cause cell mutations that can lead to genital cancers in women and men. If the body clears the HPV infection, cells can return to normal. If not, cervical cells can continue to change abnormally into precancerous and cancerous stages.
 
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Writing on behalf of the research team, Huiming Yang, medical director of screening programs at Alberta Health Services, said the school-based HPV immunization program “has demonstrated early benefits, particularly against high-grade cervical abnormalities, which are more likely to progress to cervical cancer.”
 
Although school requirements have traditionally helped promote high vaccination rates for other immunizations, only 2 US states require the HPV vaccine for adolescents. As a result, HPV vaccination coverage is well below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80%.
 
The HPV vaccine is currently required in only Virginia and Washington, DC, with Rhode Island joining the duo this August. This contrasts greatly with the varicella vaccine, which is required in all states; the hepatitis B vaccine, which is required in 47 states and DC; and the meningococcal vaccine, which is required in 29 states and DC.
 
Consequently, CDC data reveal that only 37.6% of girls and 13.9% of boys received the 3-dose HPV series in 2013.
 
The HPV vaccine is designed for women aged 11 to 12 years, but clinicians should encourage women as old as 26 years to get immunized if they haven’t received it yet. Clinicians should also be sure not to neglect boys, as the vaccine has been recommended for males since 2011, and a 2015 study published in Epidemics argued that deriving the greatest benefit from a vaccine program requires a strategy targeted at both genders.
 
According to Marc Ryser, PhD, “It is important to emphasize that the HPV vaccine is much more than a vaccine against cervical cancer, as it prevents a number of different cancers in both women and men.”
 
“In addition, vaccinated males provide indirect protection to their sexual partners, thereby increasing the population benefit of the vaccine,” he said.


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