Vaccines are the best resource in our fight against preventable diseases, and sometimes they work even better than we could have hoped for. This seems to be the emerging case for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine, which was introduced just a decade ago to combat the virus that causes cervical cancer, among others.
Although there are more than 100 different strains of HPV, only a small number are associated with cancer, and it is these that the vaccine targets. More specifically, four are high risk for genital cancer. Types 16 and 18, for instance, cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.
According to a new study, published in Pediatrics, in the last 10 years the prevalence of the virus, or more specifically these four types, in teenage girls has fallen by 64 percent in the U.S., concomitant with the release of the vaccine. The study also highlights that among women aged 20 to 24, who had on average lower vaccination rates, the most dangerous strains of the virus fell by 34 percent. The vaccine is usually administered before puberty because HPV is sexually transmittable.
As always people have questioned the protection given by the vaccine, but the evidence for it is overwhelming. In Australia, the vaccine is offered for free to schoolgirls and that accomplished a 92 percent reduction in genital warts in women under the age of 21 over the period 2007 to 2011.
In the United States, the vaccine is largely optional and the debate is often linked to underage sexual activities rather than cancer prevention. Dozens of cancers centers, as well as pediatrics associations, are actively endorsing the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
“Multiple studies have shown the importance of a strong provider recommendation for increasing vaccination coverage,” said to the New York Times Dr. Lauri E. Markowitz, a medical epidemiologist at the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, a division of the C.D.C., who led the research for the latest study.
Cervical cancer is diagnosed in about 13,000 women every year in the U.S., and it kills 4,120 of them. HPV is not only responsible for cervical cancer, but also for common and genital warts, throat, mouth, anal, and penis cancer. 27,000 new cases of cancer every year are due to HPV and of the 1,046 yearly cases of penis cancer in the U.S., 400 are attributed to HPV.
[H/T: New York Times]