British schoolgirls are to be offered vaccinations against cervical cancer from next year, in a scheme which could save hundreds of lives a year, officials said Friday.
The introduction of the voluntary vaccinations for 12-13 year-olds from September 2008 is a recognition of the "need to do more to prevent disease and not just treat it," Health Secretary Alan Johnson said.
Girls will be vaccinated against the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV causes around 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer which kills more than 1,000 women in Britain each year.
The basic programme of vaccinations will cost the country around 100 million pounds, but experts hope this will be offset by the reductions in treatment costs later.
Around 400 lives could potentially be saved each year, according to official estimates. A two-year "catch-up" campaign for girls aged 16 to 18 will begin in 2009 and girls aged 15-17 will be offered the jab in 2010.
The move was welcomed by health professionals including the Royal College of GPs and Cancer Research UK.
"The benefits of introducing this vaccine into the national immunisation programme will be felt by women and their families for generations to come," said Professor David Salisbury of the government's Department of Health.
Each year, more than 2,700 British women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and around 200,000 women a year also have pre-cancerous changes to their cervix picked up through smear tests.
Cervical cancer kills around 274,000 women worldwide every year.