Somone was teasing me the other night about how often I've spoken and written about cervical cancer. (I also find raising the topic useful at dinner useful when people are a irritating me or I really want to change the topic). Last night I stayed in to catch up on work, and watched many news items about Gardasil, the new vaccine just licensed in the EU.
Cervical cancer vaccine licensed - The Telegraph.
(Now several TV shows want me not only to try crucifixion, but also talk about my cervix ... though none so far at the same time.).
There were a lot of misconceptions given too much credence on the various news reports, and I feel compelled to clarify them:
"Christians" were told that it would increase promiscuity, so of course they condemned it. Every Christian group I have spoken to about it, when I have shown them real medical studies, and explained HPV as well as how the vaccine work in fact have been very interested and even supportive of the vaccine. It's easier for liberal reporters to stitch up Christians than present them with the facts and let them decide for themselves.
Gardasil is brought to us by Sanofi Pasteur and Merck in Europe. GlaxoSmith Kline will also have a version out soon, but Merck came out first in the US too, and seems to perform a little better in tests, and protect against more strains of HPV. It's the one I would chose.
At first it was just spoken of as being for 12 year old girls (due to cervical bit, and to be pre sex), but after lobbying not linked to the drug companies the long term aim in to give it to boys and girls as young as possible.
This is because HPV is not sexually transmitted. As I have written many times in the past, you can catch a cold through sex, but a cold is not an STD. Many well researched studies have shown large numbers of primary school children (more than half) have had and fought off HPV16, one of the main types of HPV linked to cancer. It's also linked to mouth, colon, eye, etc. cancers, as well as gingivitis. Other types of HPV cause warts and verucas, which you can pick up at the gym by walking around barefoot. (See my article in the Guardian Society).
The vaccine is not a failure because it is believed that it will only prevent 75 % of cervical cancer. This is because not all cervical cancers are linked to HPV - in fact only one type is - and the vaccine only prevents HPV related cancers. So to be safe, we still need to do PAP / smear tests.
One "cancer survivor" spoke of having her cervix removed and so not being to have children now. I assume she skipped a few PAP reminders and went to a butcher instead, or was treated during the Stone Age, as this sounded quite wrong. The removal of the cervix has become a more common operation than a Hysterectomy where the cancer has not spread to the womb BECAUSE it allows women to have children after the operation. I am sorry to be rude about a "cancer survivor" but either the woman does not understand her body and basic biology, or she misunderstood the doctor's instructions which would have been not to try to conceive until x months after the procedure (I was told 3 months after each colonoscopy, which is very conservative and more designed to avoid malpractice rather than because of any real need). If the reporters had done their research, they would know this, but rather than reassuring the woman by telling her the facts, I guess having her ignorant and crying made better television.
1/3 people now have cancer at some point in their lives, and many people survive it thanks to the brilliant advances made in modern medicine. If women took advantage of these, and had PAP / smear tests (available free on the NHS in the UK), then far fewer women would die of cervical cancer (some studies suggest up to 2,000 pa in the UK). I have spoken to groups of women about this many times, and they all know they have to go, but many feel embarrassed or cannot be bothered so ignore reminders sent by GPs. I found it frustrating talking to them because of this, and this is why I cut down on talking to these groups of intelligent women at universities. Ideally women should have them annually, but even going every three years would catch most cases of cervical cancer early enough to treat it in a non-invasive way.
Up to 40 % of women in the UK are believed to have pre-cancerous cells in their cervix at some point in their lives due to HPV.
Well over 90 % of men and women seem to have HPV at some point in their lives, and fight it off without knowing, with no symptons or damage - just like a cold.
Many of the reports made want to throw things at the television, so if I have forgotten any other points, I will update this post later.
I have seen the research, questioned many of the scientists involved in these vaccines to the point where I'm amazed that some of them are still friends, and my conclusions are that this is a good thing, and I would vaccinate my children as young as possible.
Update 1 (17.15) -
Some women fight off HPV16 with no problems, others do not. It may depend on general health at the time or a dozen other factors - I have asked the question many times, and still not heard a satisfactory reply. You might catch it tomorrow but have fought off HPV16 at kindergaten. Most women have had and cleared HPV16 or 18 or another type by the time they are my age. Studies are underway to see: a) how long the vaccine keeps one immune, b) how effective it is against those who have already had a form of HPV.
It's no secret that I am quite a bit past the recommended age ... but now that the ability to become immune to many types of HPV is available, I don't want to risk getting one. I have asked my GP to order the jab for me, and will be vaccinated with Gardasil as soon as it is available.