updated 11/11/2004 7:16:55 PM ET 2004-11-12T00:16:55

It’s one of the most common cancers in women and kills about a quarter of a million patients each year but scientists said on Friday that a new vaccine could prevent most cases of cervical cancer.

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The researchers tested a vaccine that protects women against two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which are linked to more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The vaccine was developed by drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

“This is the first time we have shown that there is a vaccine that protects against the only cause of a cancer and we can actually prevent 70 percent of all cervical cancer worldwide,” said Diane Harper, of Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire.

But she added in an interview that larger trials with a longer follow-up time are needed to confirm the trial results.

Each year 470,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. If it is detected and treated early, survival rates are good. Eighty percent of deaths from the disease are in the developing world.

Video: Cervical cancer breakthrough? Scientists agree that the best way to tackle the disease is a vaccine to prevent persistent infection with HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, and to combine it with a screening programme.

More than 75 percent of women are infected with HPV at some time during their lives but in most cases it only lasts for a short time and produces no symptoms.

In research reported in The Lancet medical journal, Harper and her team tested the vaccine on 1,113 women, aged 15-25 years in the United States, Canada and Brazil.

The women were randomly selected to receive three doses of the vaccine or a placebo and followed up for 27 months.

The scientists said the vaccine was 91 percent effective against infection with HPV 16 and HPV 18 strains and provided 100 percent protection against persistent infections that can lead to cancer.

The vaccine was safe and had few side effects,” she added.

GlaxoSmithKline has pushed up the filing date for worldwide regulatory approval for the vaccine known as Cervarix from 2008 to 2006.

Merck is also working on an HPV vaccine to protect women from the HPV infection.

In a commentary in the journal, Matti Lehtinen of the National Pubic Health Institute in Finland and Jorma Paavonen, of the University of Helsinki, said the vaccine showed great promise.

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