Womens Health

Diane Harper Speaks Out About Gardasil

The Gardasil vaccine is generating a great deal of discussion and controversy. The amount of material on the internet alone is mind-boggling. But how do we weed through this wealth of material and whom can we trust to give us straight talk about the vaccine?

Not Afraid

We're lucky indeed to have Dr. Diane Harper to tell us the truth about Gardasil. Harper was principle investigator during clinical trials on the Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines, and she's not afraid to speak her mind. The respected researcher has issued the following statement on the subject of Pap tests and HPV vaccines: "The most important point that I have always said from day one, is that the use of this vaccine must be done with informed consent and complete disclosure of the benefits and harms of Pap screening and HPV vaccines. The decision to be vaccinated must be the woman's (or parent's if it is for a young child), and not the physician's or any board of health, as the vaccination contains personal risk that only the person can value."

Catching Cancer

Dr. Harper has done her best to outline the issues involved in weighing the pros and cons of Pap Smears versus HPV vaccination. To start with, Harper tells us that Pap smears can detect a precancerous cervix, which is like catching cancer before it starts. Pap smears can't kill or maim people. But they won't make a dent in cervical cancer rates unless a full 70% of the female population is screened.

Pap smears must be repeated at regular intervals throughout a woman's lifespan. As to the issue of false negatives, 30% of U.S. women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer received false negative results on their regular pap smears. But false positives may be upsetting, too. Once a woman has a positive result on a Pap smear, she will have to have a colposcopy and biopsy. The fear of getting a positive Pap smear can't be underestimated, yet, if further tests rule out cancer, a woman will be grateful yet left wondering why her Pap smear was abnormal.

On the other hand, the Gardasil vaccine protects against three types of HPV that are known to cause precancers and cancers. But this vaccine only provides long-term (5 year) protection for one type of cancer-causing HPV: HPV16. If the vaccine is administered within a year of beginning sexual activity, 57 in every 1000 cases of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) stage 2 and HPV 16/18 infections will be prevented. In cases where virgins receive the vaccine, only 17 in 1000 cases will be prevented.

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