A new vaccine to prevent cervical cancer has recently been developed by the Pharmaceutical Industry. Merck and Company has developed a vaccine to prevent nearly all cases of cervical cancer in women. This vaccine is only effective in women not previously exposed human papilloma virus, the virus that causes cervical cancer. A recent clinical trial has shown that vaccinated women are protected from cervical cancer, because they are immune to human papilloma virus. This study enrolled women not previously exposed to human papilloma virus, and is the first study to show a vaccine can prevent cancer. This vaccine may be available to women as early as next year.
Cervical cancer is a malignancy of the portion of the female uterus called the cervix. Early detection by PAP smear has led to fewer cases, but cervical cancer is still the fourth most common cancer in women, with 231,064 cases in the United States in 2000. Nearly all cases are caused by a sexually transmitted disease called the human papilloma virus. Two virus subtypes- type 16 and-18- cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
Initial results from the landmark vaccination trial were published in 2002. At this time the vaccine was shown to prevent infection with human papilloma virus types 16 and 18. Now, with more follow up time, the vaccine has been shown to provide 100 % protection against cervical cancer. Vaccinated women become immune to human papilloma virus and do not get cervical cancer. Side effects are minor, and consist mainly of injection site reactions.
The FDA is expected to approve this vaccine shortly. The vaccine may become standard in the teenage years, or possibly earlier, in women who may soon become sexually active. This vaccine will not yet be recommended for men, who can be carriers of the virus. Further studies are needed to determine if men should be immunized.
Routine vaccination might help eliminate cervical cancer, but vaccination should be used in conjunction with current approaches including PAP smears, and with public health measures for control of sexually transmitted diseases. Women who are immunized against human papilloma virus will be protected against cervical cancer, but will remain at risk for other sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and syphilus. Therefore, it is important to pursue a multifaceted approach including immunizations, discouraging promiscuous behavior, and using barrier methods (condoms).