Vaccines Show Promise in Eliminating Cervical Cancer

Early vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) could vastly reduce the incidence of cervical cancer, and two vaccines are nearing the point of regulatory approval. GlaxoSmithKline has developed a vaccine containing the two strains of HPV most likely to cause cervical cancer, according to the New Scientist, and this vaccine has prevented 90 percent of new infections in testing groups. Merck achieved similar results with its HPV vaccine, comprised of the same two HPV strains as well as two HPV strains that can cause genital warts. Dr. Philip Davies, head of the European Cervical Cancer Association told the Canadian Press that “at this point in time, we have the means to virtually eliminate cervical cancer. So it’s really the first human cancer that we could virtually eliminate in developed nations.”

Because HPV can be sexually transmitted, girls would ideally be vaccinated before their first sexual encounter, a possibility that presents challenges worldwide. N. K. Ganguly, head of the Indian Council of Medical Research, told the New Scientist that convincing parents to vaccinate their daughters against a sexually transmitted infection would require a massive educational effort. The New Scientist suggests that, paradoxically, vaccinating men may be the easiest way to eliminate HPV and cervical cancer among women, as men would not face the same taboos relating to their sexual activity. Furthermore, according to the Canadian Press, it remains unclear whether the pricing of new vaccines will be low enough to allow women in Third World countries, where even pap smears are rare, to access to HPV prevention.

Cervical cancer prevention is making progress in the United States, as 17 states have enacted bills or resolutions addressing the issue, and 35 states have considered such legislation, according to Women in Government, a bipartisan, national organization women state legislators. Of these measures, some create task forces “to bring new knowledge, expertise and technologies to the fight against cervical cancer,” while others require that all women seeking advanced screening technology be covered by insurance, reports Women in Government. A survey of US parents showed that 80 percent of them would willingly have their daughters vaccinated in order to prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer later in their lives, according to the New Scientist.

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New Scientist, 4/18/05; Canadian Press, 5/3/05; Women in Government 5/2/05

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