Thursday, June 21, 2007

New HPV vaccine still making waves

There’s still a lot of controversy over the new HPV vaccine being offered to girls and young women in the hope of preventing the development of cervical cancer.

There are many types of human papilloma virus (HPV) but there are four types that cause up to 70% of cervical cancer cases and up to 90% of genital warts.(1) The vaccine prevents these types of HPV virus from being transmitted from one person to another.

While most of us are familiar with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like gonnorhea and HIV, HPV is also an STD. In fact, it is the most common STD in the world. Up to 75% of Canadian women have been infected with HPV.(2)

It seems that much of the controversy centers around the ages of the girls who are targeted for the vaccine. The manufacturer of Gardasil® (Merck) is targeting girls before they become sexually active, as young as 9 years old. This makes sense because sexual activity is rarely planned and some girls are, unfortunately, not the ones who choose when their first encounter may be if they are assaulted.

According to recent Canadian studies, six out of 10 people (both male and female), aged 15 to 24 years are sexually active. One-third of them had more than one partner.(3)

HPV can be contracted from the very first sexual encounter and it doesn’t have to be sexual intercourse. Condoms are not a fool-proof way of preventing the spread because the virus can live outside the area that is covered by the condom.

Here are some sobering stats:

· Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women aged 20 to 44 years old.
· Every year, an estimated 1,400 women in Canada are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer.
· With an average of 400 deaths per year in Canada from cervical cancer, that equals more than one death per day.
· Every year, vulvar and vaginal cancers are newly diagnosed in 436 Canadian women.
· Every year, approximately 128 women in Canada die from vulvar or vaginal cancer.(4)

I’m pro-vaccination. Cervical cancer can be prevented in so many women. I do realize that we don’t know the long-term effects of the vaccine and that is a risk we take, but dying of cervical cancer just shouldn’t happen.

For those parents who are against it because they feel that they can teach their daughters to abstain or be careful – again, I remind you. A woman doesn’t always choose when her first sexual encounter will be. Don’t let this become a reason not to protect your daughter. Her life may very well depend on it.

1- Frazer IH et al. Advances in prevention of cervical cancer and other human papillomavirus-related diseases. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2006;25:S65-S81.
2- Main C. Introduction to human papillomavirus in Canada. Canadian Journal of Diagnosis 2006;11:1-4.
3- Merck Frosst. How could human papillomavirus (HPV) affect your patients’ future?
4- Merck Frosst. How could human papillomavirus (HPV) affect your patients’ future?

News for today:
HPV Vaccine Push In Canada And U.K.
Moms nursing longer due to extended mat leaves
Money can make you sick, researchers say

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