A new study has given real-world proof that Professor Ian Frazer’s HPV vaccine is helping to prevent cervical cancer.

Australia’s mass HPV vaccination program is working and saving lives, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.

The population-based study shows women who are fully vaccinated are far less likely to develop cervical cancer than other women.

This is real-world proof that the program is working, says co-author Professor David Whiteman.

“We always knew the vaccine was safe and effective in the narrow, controlled environment of clinical trials. This proves its value on a broad scale.”

Scientists from the University of Queensland and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute looked at Pap smear results of young women in Queensland and compared these to their vaccination history.

Those with high-grade abnormalities of the cervix were least likely to have been vaccinated.

The vaccine halves the risk of cervical cancer by preventing infection by two types of HPV (human papillomavirus).

However, women are still at risk from other strains and about 200 Australian women die from cervical cancer a year.

This makes regular Pap tests essential for early detection.

“All young women should be vaccinated before they become sexually active,” says Prof Whiteman.

“Australia was one of the first countries to undertake mass HPV vaccination. This analysis of how well the vaccine has worked in the first four years of the program supports the decision to roll it out across the country.”

The program saves lives and minimises future health expenditure, he says.

The HPV vaccine (sometimes called the cervical cancer vaccine) was developed by University of Queensland professor Ian Frazer.

It is given as three doses over six months and is provided free for girls and boys in the first year of high school.

The research is great news for Australian women, says co-author Dr Julia Brotherton, medical director of the National HPV Vaccination Program Register.

HPV is passed on through sexual contact and can cause penile, anal, cervical, vulval and vaginal cancers, as well as genital warts.

“With the program now vaccinating boys as well, Australia is leading the way in preventing HPV infection and the cancers it can cause,” Dr Brotherton says.

“It is still important that women remember to go for Pap tests though, because the vaccine can’t prevent all of the types of HPV.”