It seems that despite heightened media attention on cervical cancer vaccination, the vast majority of women in the UK are still unaware of the link between infection with the human papillomavirus and development of the disease.

A survey of 1,620 women conducted by the British Journal of Cancer found that a mere 2.5% cited HPV as the cause of cervical cancer, although this figure has risen from the 0.9% recorded during a similar survey back in 2002.

The finding demonstrates that public education about HPV is urgently needed, the researchers conclude, and it has raised suggestions that the public should be better aware before routine vaccination against the disease in girls aged 12 and 13 is introduced.

“Now that vaccines against human papilloma virus have been developed, it’s essential that public information keeps pace. HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, yet this research shows few women in the UK realise this,” said Jenni MacDougall, Cancer Research UK's health information manager, commenting on the findings.

Routine vaccination

In June, the Department of Health agreed, in principle, to accept advice from the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that HPV jabs should be introduced routinely for girls aged around 12-13 years, “subject to independent peer review of the cost-benefit analysis.”

If all goes to plan, routine innoculation of girls could start as early as autumn 2008, and it is hoped that the move will cut back the incidence of cervical cancer by as much as 70%.

Currently, only Merck & Co’s Gardasil has been given a green light in the UK, but GlaxoSmithKline’s rival Cervarix is hot on its heels, having received the thumbs up for approval from the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use last month.