Womens Health

The HPV Vaccine - Can It Really Help?

Human Papilloma Virus

Human papilloma virus (HPV)commonly evidenced in STDs, comes in 30 different strains, all of which can affect the genitals of both men and women. It is known that almost every sexually active person will contract an HPV at some point in their lives, even though they may never know it. Many of these viruses have no symptoms and often go away on their own. However, some types can cause cervical cancer in women as well as other less common genital cancers - such as cancers of the anus, vagina, and vulva. One of the more common symptoms of HPV is genital warts which, while not life-threatening, can create emotional stress and the treatment for them can be quite uncomfortable.

In the United States, approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and of those, nearly 4,000 die. HPV is a primary precursor to cervical cancer, however, only two strains of the virus are implicated, types 16 and 18. These two strains of HPV are present in 75 percent of all cases of cervical cancer and it is against these two strains that recent vaccines have been developed with the hope of stemming cervical cancer.

The HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer

On the face of it, the results of a recent test by the pharmaceutical company, Merck, indicates their vaccine is effective in the prevention of cervical cancer and it has been made mandatory in several states of the US for girls between the ages of 9 and 11 to receive the three injection series in order to be protected against HPV. The injection must be given to children before they become sexually active. Also, in order to properly detect and prevent cervical cancer, screening is a necessary part of the equation.

In the UK, each year there are 2,500 new cases of cervical cancer reported. It is thought that cervical cancer screening prevents up to 3,900 cases of cervical cancer per year in the UK. The vaccines for HPV can only protect against strains 16 and 18, which are associated with 75 percent of cervical cancers. That means that at least 25 percent of cervical cancers would still occur if not caught via screening programs, even if the vaccine was 100 percent effective for a lifetime.

There Are Still Questions

"The vaccine has been shown to prevent precancerous lesions, however, because cancers typically take decades to develop, it may be many years before doctors know for sure if these vaccines prevent cancers," says Charlotte Haug of the Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association. There are many other unanswered questions at this point. For instance, will the vaccine affect the body's natural immune system? Will it affect or mutate other strains of HPV which are not targeted? Will other strains of HPV become more prevalent as a result of addressing the two? Will women and girls have a false sense of security which may lead them to skip screening?

Since this vaccine is new there are many possible problems which could arise. There are still many unanswered questions and concerns which must be addressed and can only be tackled with time.

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