By: Shelagh McNally for Uterus1
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is one of the most common viral infections passed on by skin to skin contract. While many of the more than 100 different strains of HPV are harmless, HPV-16 and HPV-18 are not. Both are spread through sexual contact and cause genital warts. Unfortunately many people infected with HPV-16 and HPV-18 have no symptoms and pass on this sexually transmitted infection (STI) unknowingly. In fact researchers say more than 75 percent of women are infected with HPV at some time or another. Most of the time their bodies will be able to fight it off but when the virus gets out of control it often triggers cancer, particularly cervical cancer. Seventy percent of the half a million cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year are attributed to HPV and an estimated 280,000 women die from cervical cancer each year.
|Abnormal Pap smear|
|Possible next steps: From the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists|
Repeat pap smear
Freezing and laser treatment
A promising HPV vaccine may change that. For 20 years Dr Diane Harper of Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) and Dartmouth Medical School has studied the HPV and she believes she has found a vaccine that protects against the two strains responsible for cervical cancer. "This is incredibly exciting. There is no other gynecologic cancer or any cancer in the human body that can be completely prevented from a vaccine, in the way that cervical cancer can be," Dr Harper said. The new vaccine introduces a harmless bit of the virus into the body triggering the immune system to make antibodies. If the virus appears again the body will fight it off.
|From the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists: Study Finds Majority of Women Willing to Accept Cervical Cancer Vaccine for Self and Children|
The Harper study ran from 2000 - 2003 and followed 1,113 women between the ages of 15 and 25 throughout Brazil, Canada and the U.S. Participants each received three doses of the experimental vaccine or a placebo over a six-month period. The blinded, randomized study followed up 27 months later. Those women who received all three doses were 100 percent immune to their persistent HPV-16 or HPV-18 infections. In those women who received only two injections the vaccine was 91 percent effective. There didn’t appear to be adverse reactions other than a slight redness at the injection site. Also notable is that this vaccine is the first to target the two viruses simultaneously. Harper called the results of the study "extremely encouraging. We believe this shows enormous potential to eradicate the great majority of cervical cancers world wide." The vaccine is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and offers protection for three to five years.
Harper is now working on a third phase of the trial; the final step before licensing of the drug is given for the general population. This study involves 15,000 women worldwide and if the results are as good as the last study, the vaccine may be available within a year. If approved, it would be recommended for young women before they become sexually active. Harper said she and her colleagues are also examining an HPV vaccination for men, who often unknowingly carry the virus.