Cervical cancer poses a greater risk to girls from some ethnic minorities as they are less likely to be vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), new research suggests.
The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, also revealed that unvaccinated girls said they would be less likely to attend screening for cervical cancer when invited as adults.
HPV is the name for a group of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes lining the body, for example, in the cervix, anus, mouth and throat. There are more than 100 types of the disease, around 40 of which can affect the genital area.
Such viruses are responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer, which is why the HPV vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2008.
The national vaccination programme is for girls aged 12-13, offering full protection if they receive three doses of the vaccine within six months.
But the study of nearly 2,000 girls from 13 schools across London found that those from “black” or “other” ethnic minority backgrounds were less likely to have been vaccinated compared with those from ‘White’ or ‘Asian’ heritage.
“Cervical cancer is largely preventable through vaccination against HPV - the virus that causes it - and cervical screening, which picks up problems early so they can be treated before cancer develops,” commented Dr Jo Waller, study author based at University College London.
“Our study suggests that girls who don’t have the vaccine may be less likely to go for screening in the future, which leaves them at greater risk of developing cervical cancer.”
Almost five million women each year in England are invited for cervical screening, which looks for precancerous changes in the cells lining the cervix. These tests are routinely offered to women in England between the ages of 25 and 64.
“This study reveals there are groups of girls who are not getting vaccinated and, as a result, are at an increased risk of cervical cancer,” said Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis.
“This needs to change to ensure as many girls as possible are protected. It’s vital that girls, along with their parents, understand the importance of both these programmes, which are designed to prevent cancer from developing.
“As well as cervical cancer, research has shown that HPV also increases the risk of developing other cancers, such as some types of mouth, head and neck cancers, anal cancer and other genital cancers.”
The study results were presented on saturday at the National Cancer Research Institute’s annual cancer conference in Liverpool.
Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.