The number of young women in Scotland showing early signs of potential cervical cancer has dropped by 41% since a school vaccination programme was introduced, researchers have said.
The University of Aberdeen study looked at women who had received the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.
It found 758 women were referred for further investigation in 2013-2014, down from 1,294 in 2008-2009.
The vaccinations were introduced in 2008 for girls aged 12 and 13.
From 2008-2010 there was also a catch-up programme to vaccinate girls who were older, up to the age 18, to increase the protected population.
The team said the figures suggested the vaccine programme was delivering significant benefits 20 years earlier than expected.
The study looked at women aged 20 or 21 who were referred for a colposcopy, the procedure used to look at the cervix if cervical screening finds abnormal cells.
Prof Maggie Cruickshank, from the School of Medicine and Medical Science and Nutrition at the University of Aberdeen, led the study.
She said: “We thought it might take 20 years to see the benefits of HPV vaccination as it would take time to reduce levels of HPV infection – the virus that causes abnormal cells to develop.
“But this data shows that we’re already seeing a significant reduction in colposcopy and subsequent treatment for pre-cancer.
“This is great news for women as this means they can avoid the short-term negative effects of colposcopy such as pain and bleeding, but also longer term, there are concerns that some women treated for pre-cancer changes can have an increased risk of pre-term labour.
“So we’re showing that the vaccination is not only protecting against cancer but also, the immediate risks of the colposcopy and longer term, hopefully the increased risk of pre-term labour.”
Prof Mary Ann Lumsden, senior vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), added: “Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women below the age of 35.
“Each day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer – a largely preventable disease thanks to cervical screening and the HPV vaccination programme.
“We welcome these extremely encouraging results which reveal a reduction in the number of young women being referred for a colposcopy with early signs of potential cervical cancer – this is most likely due to the HPV vaccination programme’s success.
“We encourage all girls aged 12 and 13 to take up the vaccine. ”
The study has been published in the BJOG, a journal of obstetrics and gynaecology.
source: BJOG and BBC News