Health Alert 43
For the first time in history, a method of cancer prevention has tested 100% effective. The new treatment is a vaccine for cervical cancer. Every year 450,000 women develop cervical cancer worldwide. More than half of those women die from the disease. This new vaccine could potentially wipe out this form of cancer. If successful, it could serve as a model for preventing other types of cancers that have a link to viruses.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. There are over 70 types of papillomavirus. Some types of HPV are responsible for common warts, while other cause genital warts and cancer. 1
HPV-16 was the focus of the cervical cancer study. It is the strain of HPV most responsible for cervical cancer. HPV-16 is transmitted through sexual contact. Every sexually active woman is at risk for infection and potential cancer.
* Vaccination Aspiration *
The results of the study were reported in the November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The ongoing study is following 2,392 sexually active women between the ages of 16 and 23. The participants were given either 3 doses of the vaccine or a placebo within a 6-month period.
The women were tested for HPV-16 infections 17 months after vaccination. Forty-one women tested positive for HPV infection. All of those women were in the placebo group. None of the vaccinated women developed HPV infections. 2
Researchers are continuing to test the vaccine. It would be marketed for all women. But it would be especially important for young girls who are not yet sexually active. Future generations of women will not have to worry about the threat of cervical cancer.
* Risky Business *
We may soon have the first 100% effective cancer vaccine available to the public. In the meantime, it is important to understand the risk factors associated with cervical cancer.
Sexual Situation: HPV-16 is transmitted sexually. Women who have sexual intercourse at an early age, multiple sexual partners, and unprotected sex at any time are more likely to contract HPV-16 and develop cancer.
Age: Cervical cancer strikes both young and old. But the cancer usually shows in women between 50 and 55. The risk of cancer tends to increase with age. Many older women are unaware of their risk, especially if they have had the same sexual partner for many years. But he HPV-16 virus can be contracted at any point in life.
Diet: Women who do not eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. Without these important nutrients, the body’s immune defenses are weakened. And you will be unable to fight off HPV-16.
Family History: Women who have a family history of cervical cancer have an increased risk for the disease. This may be due to an inherited condition that makes some women more susceptible to contracting HPV.
Now that you are aware of the risk factors involved with cervical cancer, take action.
• See your gynecologist regularly
• Get a yearly Pap test indefinitely
• Use protection during sexual intercourse
• Take antioxidants to boost immune system(see Health Alert 36)
You should be getting Pap tests regularly. They are the best available tools used to catch HPV-16 before it can become cancer. If HPV is caught early enough, medications can inhibit it from forming cancer.
Al Sears MD
1 American Cancer Society,” What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?” Fact Sheet www.cancer.org
2 Koutsky LA. Et al. A controlled trial of a human papillomavirus type 16 vaccine. The New England Journal of Medicine Nov 21 2002; 347(21): 1645-1651