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Cervical cancer cases soaring among women in their late 20s

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/22/cervical-cancer-cases-soaring-among-women-late-20s/

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Cervical cancer cases are soaring among women in their late 20s, even though the virus behind it has almost been eliminated in younger generations, new figures show.

Health experts said poor take-up of smear tests among those aged between 25 and 29 has fuelled a “worrying” 54 per cent rise in cases in the last decade.

They warned that while the death of TV star Jade Goody in 2009 boosted the numbers of young women seeking screening, that effect has now long worn off.

The generation is the last which is not protected by the HPV (human papillommavirus) vaccine, which was introduced for teenage girls in 2008.

HPV causes 99 per cent of cervical cancers, with the vast majority of cases linked to two strains.   New figures, from a sample of around 600 sexually active women aged between 16 and 18, who were tested in 2018, found no cases of either strain was present.  This compares with rates of more than 15 per cent in such groups a decade before.

Ministers hailed the success of the programme, which they said was “world-leading”.

But a separate report from Cancer Research UK warns that cases of cervical cancer are soaring among those in their late 20s, who grew up before national vaccination was introduced.

More than 3,000 women are being diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, including around 400 cases among those aged 25 to 29.

Among this group, rates rose from 12 cases per 100,000 women in 2004 – 6 to 18.5 cases per 100,000 in 2015/17 – a 54 per cent increase.

Experts said the figures reflected low screening rates among such women, with just 61.9 per cent taking up invitations for smears, compared with 78.4 per cent of those those in their early 50s.

Cervical screening rates rose by 70 per cent in 2009, after TV star Jade Goody’s death from the disease.

At a glance | Human papilloma virus (HPV)

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.

The precancerous lesions increase the risk of cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, or throat.

Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious. They are spread during sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas. What can HPV infection do?

Infection with some types of genital HPV can cause:

  • genital warts – which is the second most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England
  • abnormal tissue growth and other changes to cells within your cervix – which can sometimes lead to cervical cancer

Girls aged 12-13 are offered a vaccination against HPV to help protect them against types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Women aged 25-64 are offered cervical screening to check for abnormal cells in the cervix.

Other types of HPV infection can cause minor problems, such as common skin warts and verrucas.


NHS Choices

But since 2010, take-up across all age groups has fallen from 78.9 per cent to 71.9 per cent.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “These figures show how research has protected thousands of people in the UK from cervical cancer, but they also highlight a worrying trend that shows progress is stalling and stagnating, which could undermine this success.

“Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented through screening, and now the disease is far less common in the UK.

“But these life-saving programmes can’t help people they can’t reach, which is why it’s important for us to continue to raise awareness and carry out research into how screening could be improved for hard-to-reach groups.”

HPV | The facts

It’s estimated that including boys in the HPV vaccination programme will prevent almost 50,000 non-cervical cancers by 2058, including 3,433 cases of penile cancer and 21,395 cases of head, neck and throat cancer in men. Vaccinated boys will also mean girls are doubly protected: “The girls’ programme has been very successful so far, and it’s already seen an impact in men as well as women,” says Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England.

“We’re hoping by adding boys to this it will accelerate the impact of the vaccination programme, bringing rates down even more quickly. I encourage all parents of eligible boys and girls to make sure they take up the offer for this potentially life-saving vaccine. It’s important not to delay vaccination, as the vaccine may be less effective as adolescents get older.”

When the jabs were first offered to girls in 2008, there was a catch up programme for older girls who had missed out, but this won’t be the case for boys. “Currently boys aged 13 to 18, who will have just missed out on the jab, won’t get a catch up programme like girls did in 2008, which is a decision Cancer Research UK is quite disappointed in,” says Sophia Lowes, health information manager at the charity.

“However, parents can pay privately for their sons in that age group to have the vaccination. And it’s important to remember they have some protection, because most girls in that age group are vaccinated. After the age of 18 the vaccine is less effective, because you need it before you become sexually active and are exposed to HPV.”

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer said: “More and more young women and men are being vaccinated against HPV, the most recent figures show an increase in people getting screened and most importantly, the number of people infected with the cancer-causing viruses has fallen dramatically. Together with the new way of cervical screening which has now been rolled out across England as part of our Long Term Plan, cervical cancer has the potential to become a thing of the past. It is vital that people go for their screening test, even if they are completely well – it could be a life-saver.”