Cancer Council NSW research has indicated that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine could have further-reaching benefits than preventing HPV and cervical cancer.
HPV infection is known to cause the vast majority of cervical cancers. Routine cervical screening through the National Cervical Screening Program protects women against cervical cancer by detecting the presence of HPV and abnormal precancerous changes to the cervix so they can be readily treated.
While essential for preventing cervical cancer and saving lives, treatment of some precancerous abnormalities has been linked with a very small increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
The team analysed data on the rates of preterm births and small-for-gestational-age infants born in Australia 2000–2015, factoring in maternal age and vaccination coverage by age. Their findings indicate the HPV vaccine could have lowered the risk of preterm births by 3.2% in Australia and small for gestational age infants by 9.8%. Based on this evidence, the researchers estimate the National HPV Vaccination Program could have prevented over 2000 premature births since its inception in 2007.
These findings add to the weight of evidence behind the benefits of the HPV vaccine. As well as preventing cervical and other HPV-related cancers, these findings show the vaccine might also play a significant role in reducing the rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes and improving the quality of life for many women and children around the world.