I’ve written this so many times, but it bears repeating – there are just a handful of ways to reduce your risk of cancer. Quit smoking. Quit drinking alcohol. Stay out of the sun (and tanning beds). Keep a healthy weight. And add to that list a cancer prevention vaccine, and it goes by the name of Gardasil.
There are more than 200 forms of cancer known to science, and very few are directly preventable. Tobacco smoking causes around 85% of lung cancers, possibly the best understood cancer, killing hundreds of thousands of people each year. Moreover, smoking causes more than a dozen other cancer that kill thousands of more people. Never smoking, or stopping smoking if you do, is probably the number 1 guaranteed method of preventing cancer.
Similarly, the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly 40,000 cancer cases annually in the USA. And, like quitting smoking, we have the Gardasil cancer prevention vaccine which blocks HPV infections that lead to one of those 40,000 cancer cases.
Despite all that we know about HPV and Gardasil, it’s still a 50:50 shot whether a teenager will receive the vaccine. We need to change the dynamic about Gardasil, because it prevents cancer!
This article will review the science behind Gardasil along with its impressive safety profile. For those of you who don’t need convincing, maybe this article will serve as a good reference when you’re in one of those exhausting arguments with the anti-Gardasil crowd.
HPV and Gardasil
I’ve written about this vaccine 100 times – however, this might be your first bit of research into the HPV vaccine, so here’s a brief overview. If you’ve read it before, just skip to the next section if you want.
Genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV) are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA. There are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans, although only 40 of these strains are linked to a particular cancer. Generally, HPV is transmitted as a result of personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Although the early symptoms of the infections aren’t serious, HPV is closely linked to many types of cancers in men and women. According to current medical research, here are some of the cancers that are linked to HPV:
These are all dangerous and disfiguring cancers that can be mostly prevented by the HPV cancer vaccine. If you’re a male, and you think that these are mostly female cancers, penile cancer can lead to amputation of your penis. Just think about that guys.
HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco with respect to cancer. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. As we mentioned above, nearly 40,000 cancer diagnoses a year in the USA are HPV-related.
Gardasil-9, the current version of the HPV cancer vaccine, protects teens and young adults from 9 subtypes of cancer-causing HPV, which leads to lower risks of more types of cancer.
Need convincing data that Gardasil prevents cancer? Let’s take a look.
Does Gardasil, the cancer prevention vaccine, really work?
Looking at the largest, best designed studies, we have solid, overwhelming evidence that the risk of HPV-related cancers is reduced in the population that receives the HPV vaccine. The only thing that matters is evidence, and we have it.
For example, there is a new study, recently published in JAMA Oncology, that examined the population-based trends for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), which is a potentially premalignant transformation and abnormal growth (dysplasia) of squamous cells on the surface of the cervix, before and after the introduction of the HPV vaccines. They found that there was an annual reduction of 9.0% for the mildest form of CIN up to an annual reduction of 41.3% in the most severe and dangerous form of CIN after the introduction of the vaccine.
The authors of the study concluded that:
According to lead researcher Cosette Wheeler,
In a large study of all Danish women born from 1989-1999, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, data showed that the risk of CIN dropped by 40% for those receiving the HPV vaccine. In an article published in PLOS ONE, General Practitioners (GPs) in Australia are managing 61% fewer cases of genital warts among young women since the introduction of a national HPV vaccination program in Australia, which provides the vaccine for free.
There are dozens of other studies that show a reduction in HPV infections along with a lowered risk of various HPV-related cancers. As each year passes since the introduction of the vaccine, we gather more powerful evidence that the cancer prevention vaccine really does work. Why would we ever ignore getting this vaccine for ourselves and our children?
Is Gardasil, the cancer prevention vaccine, really safe?
If you’re at all interested in researching HPV vaccines, you’ll find dozens of YouTube videos, filled with personal and sometimes convincing anecdotes, that Gardasil is some dangerous drug that’s killing our children.
The anti-Gardasil gang, a special subset of the anti-vaccine corps, dumpster dives into the vaccine adverse event reporting system, VAERS, to find evidence that Gardasil kills or harms people. Unfortunately for their narrative, VAERS is a voluntary database, and its reports are not evaluated for causation. And the numbers there do not accurately reflect a relationship between the vaccine and the adverse event. This does not qualify as “extraordinary evidence.” It barely qualifies as evidence of any sort.
On the other hand, personal anecdotes on YouTube have zero value as scientific evidence on the safety, or lack thereof, of Gardasil. The only thing that matters is scientific evidence, that is derived from the best and largest designed studies, and is published in the best journals. This type of evidence is unbiased and highly convincing to almost anyone who let’s the evidence drive the conclusion. But it’s probably useless to those of you who let the conclusion drive the evidence, the standard MO of the anti-vaccine crowd.
There are three critical studies, using a huge patient population, that convincingly establish the nearly unassailable safety profile of Gardasil. The first large study, which included nearly 200,000 young females who had received the vaccine, found that the vaccine was only associated with same-day syncope (fainting) and skin infections in the two weeks after vaccination. These findings support other large studies that also found the vaccine safe and an appropriate strategy to prevent cervical cancers. The authors stated that, “this study did not detect evidence of new safety concerns among females 9 to 26 years of age secondary to vaccination with HPV4.”
Let’s be clear – the only adverse event found was fainting, something I didn’t realize was that common. No it has nothing to do with the vaccine, and more to do with the fear and pain of the needle. Geez, I love watching my blood pulse into a Vacutainer tube when I get a blood draw. I must be weird.
In the second massive study, which included over 1 million patients and nearly 700,000 doses of the vaccine, the authors concluded that “this study identified no safety signals with respect to autoimmune, neurological, and venous thromboembolic events after the (quadrivalent) HPV vaccine had been administered.” They found no adverse events that were statistically higher than in the control (unvaccinated) group or higher than what is found in the general population of individuals of that age.
The lead author of this study, Dr. Lisen Arnheim-Dahlström, associate professor at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics stated, “you could see our study as part of a societal alarm system, and as such it did not alert us to any signs that HPV vaccination carries a risk of serious adverse events.”
Again, evidence says there’s no link between the HPV vaccine and adverse events.
But we’re not done. The third humongous study, which included over 4 million patients and nearly 2 million doses of Gardasil and examined patient data 24 months after the vaccination, concluded that “(quadrivalent) HPV vaccination was not associated with the development of multiple sclerosis or other demyelinating diseases. These findings do not support concerns about a causal relationship between qHPV vaccination and demyelinating diseases.” Most of the anecdotes about Gardasil make claims about Gardasil causing neurological diseases, but yet, in real research published in real journals, we find that there simply is no link between the vaccine and these adverse events.
One more thing. The HPV vaccine does not make young women more promiscuous or engage in more risky sexual behavior. In fact, it appears that those women who do so actually choose to get the vaccine to protect themselves. Yeah, there are parents who think that their kids will become promiscuous if they get the vaccine.
So what can we conclude?
It’s simple. HPV causes cancer. The HPV cancer prevention vaccine stops HPV infections. Vaccinated groups have lower risk of cancers. And the vaccine is safe.
If you’re a young adult, get the cancer prevention vaccine. If you have children, make sure they’re vaccinated against HPV. Let’s win the war on cancer, and Gardasil is one of the best weapons in that war.
- Alberg, AJ; Brock, MV; Samet, JM (2016). “52: Epidemiology of lung cancer”. Murray & Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine (6th ed.). Saunders Elsevier.
- Arnheim-Dahlström L, Pasternak B, Svanström H, Sparén P, Hviid A. Autoimmune, neurological, and venous thromboembolic adverse events after immunisation of adolescent girls with quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine in Denmark and Sweden: cohort study. BMJ 2013 Oct;347:f5906 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f5906
- Baldur-Felskov B, Dehlendorff C, Munk C, Kjaer SK. Early Impact of Human Papillomavirus Vaccination on Cervical Neoplasia–Nationwide Follow-up of Young Danish Women. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2014 Feb 19. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24552678.
- Benard VB, Castle PE, Jenison SA, Hunt WC, Kim JJ, Cuzick J, Lee JH, Du R, Robertson M, Norville S, Wheeler CM; New Mexico HPV Pap Registry Steering Committee. Population-Based Incidence Rates of Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia in the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Era. JAMA Oncol. 2016 Sep 29. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.3609. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 27685805.
- Fishman J, Taylor L, Kooker P, Frank I. Parent and Adolescent Knowledge of HPV and Subsequent Vaccination. Pediatrics. 2014 Sep 15. pii: peds.2013-3454. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25225141.
- Harrison C, Britt H, Garland S, Conway L, Stein A, Pirotta M, Fairley C. Decreased Management of Genital Warts in Young Women in Australian General Practice Post Introduction of National HPV Vaccination Program: Results from a Nationally Representative Cross-Sectional General Practice Study. PLoS One. 2014 Sep 2;9(9):e105967. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105967. eCollection 2014. PubMed PMID: 25180698.
- Klein NP, Hansen J, Chao C, Velicer C, Emery M, Slezak J, Lewis N, Deosaransingh K, Sy L, Ackerson B, Cheetham TC, Liaw KL, Takhar H, Jacobsen SJ. Safety of quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine administered routinely to females. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012 Dec;166(12):1140-8. doi: 10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.1451. PubMed PMID: 23027469.
- Scheller NM, Svanström H, Pasternak B, Arnheim-Dahlström L, Sundström K, Fink K, Hviid A. Quadrivalent HPV vaccination and risk of multiple sclerosis and other demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system. JAMA. 2015 Jan 6;313(1):54-61. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.16946. PubMed PMID: 25562266.