MMR, Rotateq, Tdap – a few of many vaccines given to young children to help prevent life-threatening illnesses. And if you knew that a vaccine could help prevent cancer, wouldn’t you jump at that chance? Researchers in Scotland have found that the HPV vaccine does just that – it has almost entirely wiped out cervical pre-cancerous cells in young women since the introduction of the vaccine 10 years ago.
The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most sexually transmitted infection in the world. Currently, some 80 million Americans have the virus. Yes, that’s right, currently 1 out of every 4 Americans has HPV. To clarify, HPV is very different from the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). HPV is often without any symptoms. Often, it causes genital warts and mild changes to the surface of a woman’s cervix. Those cervical changes are why we do Pap tests. Sometimes those changes become precancerous and—untreated—will lead to cervical cancer.
In this study, the researchers analyzed vaccination and screening records for 140,000 women. They found that the HPV vaccine led to a 90% reduction in mutated cervical cells, meaning that the chances these women develop cervical cancer in the future has also been drastically reduced. 99.7% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, and 70% of those cases are attributed to just two strains of HPV – 16 and 18. The leading brands of HPV vaccines protect against both strains, but researchers have found that the vaccine also protects against three additional strains, driving the rate of cervical disease even lower.
Currently, cervical cancer is the 14th most common type of cancer that affects women in the US. Every year there are 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer and over 4,000 women die of the disease. The Center for Disease Control recommends that all children receive the HPV vaccine at age 12. Like most vaccines, it is most effective before any possible contact with the virus. However, the FDA has approved a vaccine for adults up to the age of 45. Even if an adult has been previously exposed to a strain of HPV, it can protect against strains that the individual has not been exposed to before. If you haven’t been vaccinated and are interested in learning more, please give us a call to make an appointment. If you are the parent or guardian of a boy, know that the HPV vaccine is approved for both men and women aged 9-45. The burden of HPV disease (abnormal Pap tests, cervical cancer) nearly all rests on women, however it’s both men and women that are responsible for carrying and spreading the virus. The HPV vaccine in men helps decrease their risk of genital warts and the chance of them passing the cancer-causing vaccine on their partners.
With increasing use of the HPV vaccine, as the Stockland study shows, we expect to see a huge decrease in abnormal Pap tests and precancerous lesions of the cervix. However, due to the newness of the vaccine, the resistance to it’s use in some communities and the risk from other strains of HPV not covered by the vaccine, we do still recommend cervical cancer screening at your regular well woman physical exam.
El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems. Drs. Amy Teng, Erika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecgologic Surgery. Dr. Erika Balassiano is also completed a Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.
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