FEWER young women are having cell changes which can trigger cervical cancer following the launch of a vaccine, according to Scottish research.
Experts found a 55 per cent reduction in pre-cancerous abnormalities among girls who had received three doses of the cervical cancer vaccine. The study is thought to be one of the first to show the impact of the immunisation programme and the findings have been described as "exciting".
Schoolgirls have been immunised against strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most cervical cancers, in Scotland since 2008.
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The first teenagers given this protection have now turned 20 and are eligible for cervical cancer screening through smear tests. A team from Health Protection Scotland, which looks after public health, and Strathclyde University examined their results.
Among the women who had received the full vaccine, screening uncovered 51 per cent fewer high grade cervical cell abnormalities - the stage before cancer - and 29 per cent fewer low grade cell abnormalities.
Dr Kevin Pollock, senior epidemiologist at HPS, said: "These findings are exciting and demonstrate that high uptake of the HPV vaccine is associated with a significant reduction of low and high grade cervical abnormalities in young women in Scotland."
Uptake of all three doses of the vaccine has exceeded 90 per cent among 12 and 13-year-old girls since 2008.
Dr Pollock said there had also been a slight increase in attendance for smear tests among young women, suggesting the vaccine may have alerted them to the need to have the health check. The vaccine does not protect against all forms of HPV, which can cause cervical cancer.
The findings of the study were published in the British Journal of Cancer yesterday, coinciding with an appeal from the charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust for women to go for smear tests.
In little more than 10 years screening uptake has fallen in Scotland by almost 14 per cent in women aged 25-29 and 10 per cent in those aged 55-59, according to the charity. In 2012, 295 Scottish women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 112 lost their lives to the disease.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "We are extremely worried that if screening attendance continues to fall, numbers diagnosed will rise dramatically. Cervical cancer is a preventable disease primarily thanks to the cervical screening programme so we must do all we can to make sure women not only recognise the importance of this preventable measure and attend screening but that all those eligible are able to access the programme."
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which had the lowest uptake for screening in Scotland at 73.3 per cent last year, has started a social marketing campaign. The board says within a month attendance for smear tests increased 20 per cent across all age groups.