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The End of an HPV Era?

June 22, 2011

Brit Trogen

 

A recent study published in The Lancet has good news on the cervical cancer front. Australia's HPV vaccination program seems to already be taking effect: a dramatic decrease (by 50%!) has been reported in the number of lesions that lead to cancer in vaccinated girls under 18. Chalk one up for a brighter future on the horizon!

 

The HPV vaccine (or vaccines, as I should call them: Gardasil and Cervarix), seem to be settling in to mainstream medicine fairly comfortably, minus the occasional anti-vaccine uprising or public scare. The plus side of these vaccines is staggering; they protect against the two types of HPV virus that are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers in females, as well as 90% of genital warts. Australia was the first country to implement population-wide vaccination in teen girls and adult women. But with additional vaccine programs in place in Canada, Europe and the U.S., it's likely that we'll be seeing a nice decrease in both of these afflictions across the map. 

 

But, perhaps because the strategy is seeing such success, some people are already questioning whether it might be improved upon. Why aren't boys being vaccinated? HPV is also responsible for several cancers in men, including anal cancer, and some penile and oral cancers, and in fact the vaccines are already being sought in increasing numbers by gay men, who otherwise wouldn't have access to them. The cost-benefit analysis may mean that school programs for boys may not be implemented with the same gusto that they are for girls, but with dropping costs for the vaccine it may be a worthwhile investment. 

 

If anything, it feels odd to be faced with a story in which people are fighting over who gets access to a vaccine... Like we've entered some strange bizarro world where science is king and Andrew Wakefield never gets TV gigs. And let's hope we'll some day face an HPV-free world.

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