Saturday, October 22, 2005

Human papilloma virus vaccine

First large test shows vaccine prevents cervical cancer

October 6, 2005, 11:26 AM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. -- The first large study of an experimental cervical cancer vaccine found it was 100 percent effective, in the short term, at blocking the most common cause of the disease, the vaccine's maker said Thursday.

Merck's genetically engineered vaccine prevents cervical cancer by blocking infection from the human papilloma virus strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.

Other types of HPV, which is sexually transmitted, also can cause cervical cancer and painful genital warts. About 20 million Americans have some form of HPV.

The final-stage study of the vaccine included 10,559 sexually active women ages 16 to 26 in the United States and 12 other countries who were not infected with the HPV strains 16 or 18. Half got three vaccine doses over six months; half got dummy shots.

Among those still virus-free after the six months, none who received the vaccine developed either cervical cancer or precancerous lesions likely to turn cancerous over an average two years of follow-up, compared with 21 who got dummy shots.

"To have 100 percent efficacy is something that you have very rarely," Dr. Eliav Barr, Merck's head of clinical development for the vaccine called Gardasil, told The Associated Press. "We're breaking out the champagne."

Other articles about this: here, here , here, here.

Sounds like good news, right? Well, consider this earlier story from April:

Will cancer vaccine get to all women?

The trouble is that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is sexually transmitted. So to prevent infection, girls will have to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, which could be a problem in many countries.

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

And attitudes may be even worse in other cultures:
"We found that some Asian women in Britain are afraid even to get tested for HPV infection, because they say if it is positive they will be killed, never mind that their husbands probably gave it to them," says Szarewski. She feels that such attitudes may mean that HPV vaccination may be a non-starter in such communities.

What a shame that religious and cultural prejudices contribute to millions of avoidable deaths. This is consistent with a "culture of life"?



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