A new study indicates that the HPV vaccine can lower a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. Many health professionals have long held this belief, but the study offers further evidence of the correlation between the vaccine and a lower risk of cancer.

Susan Hariri of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led the study. In a statement, Hariri said, “We think that the decrease in high-grade (precancerous) lesions in this group reflect changes in screening but also may be partially due to HPV vaccination.”

HPV vaccinations were first introduced in the United States in 2008. The CDC recommends that all girls age nine to 12 receive the vaccination as a way to prevent HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease that has the ability to develop into several forms of cancer, most notably cervical cancer.

Through their research, Hariri and her team found a significant decline in high-grade cervical lesions in women age 18 to 20, while women 21 to 24 experienced a slightly smaller decline. The HPV infection is responsible for causing more than half of all high-grade cervical lesions, which don’t cause symptoms and may only be detected through cervical cancer screenings.

The study also takes into account a change that was made in the recommendations for cervical cancer screening. Hariri explains, “screening is no longer recommended in women before age 21 years, and we found substantial declines in screen in 18- to 20-year-olds that were consistent with the new recommendations.”

However, Hariri admits that more time and further studies are needed to be certain about the study’s conclusions. Still, experts are encouraged by the results of the new study, believing that the vaccinations have made an impact, even though the lower rates of cervical cancer may also be related to decreased screenings.