A vaccine for an extremely common sexually transmitted disease — human papillomavirus, or HPV — is making big strides in the war against cancer.
A drug branded as Gardasil 9 could prevent 90 percent of cervical and vaginal cancers, 90 percent of HPV-related anal cancer and genital warts, and around 78 percent of cervical diseases, according to a new study published last week in the British medical journal Lancet.
Drug giant Merck & Co., which funded the study, has manufactured Gardasil 9 since 2015.
Designed for females and males ages 9 through 26 and available in more than 40 countries, the vaccine is the latest of a few inoculations developed to prevent the more than 100 types of HPV.
But a recent CDC study found that only 50 percent of girls and less than 40 percent of boys in the United States received the vaccination. The study showed that public health leaders and doctors needed to do more, said the researchers.
“The results of this study support comprehensive vaccination programs,” said Anna Giuliano, a study co-author and director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, in a press release.
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HPV infects four out of five women by the time they turn 50, the researchers said. For 90 percent of sufferers, HPV clears up in between few months to two years, according to the World Health Organization.
But two kinds of HPV — 16 and 18 — cause around 70 percent of cervical cancer. Around 300,000 women, 80 percent of them in the developing world, die from cervical cancer annually. That’s the second-most common cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.
Other versions of Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline’s drug Cervarix now work to prevent only HPV types 16 and 18.
Giuliano and scientists in 18 countries studied more than 14,000 women between the ages of 16 and 26, comparing the effects of Gardasil to other HPV vaccines. They then followed the women’s health progress for six years.
The breakthrough comes as National Cancer Institute researchers Douglas Lowy and John Schiller are due on Sept. 18 to receive the Lasker Award, a top distinction in medicine, for their work on preventing HPV over the years.
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In granting Lowy and Schiller the award, the Lasker Foundation said the benefits of stepping up vaccinations against HPV in the US might take years to realize. But early versions of Gardasil have been routinely administrated in Australia since 2007 to great effect.
“The lag between HPV infection and cancer diagnosis means that the vaccines’ presumptive ability to reduce malignancies will not become obvious until at least 2030,” said the Lasker Foundation’s website. “In Australia, for instance, the incidence of genital warts and precancerous cervical abnormalities in young women is plummeting.”
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