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HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer in women


A new study out of Scotland shows the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine — the country had no cases of cervical cancer in women who were fully vaccinated against HPV between the ages of 12 and 13. If it wasn’t clear, that’s zero cases.

As you know, I am a huge proponent of the HPV vaccine. I think it was the most important vaccine to ever be developed until it was recently supplanted by the even more important COVID-19 vaccine.

Since this new study out of Scotland is so important concerning the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine in preventing cancer, I feel it is important to detail the results from the study.

a group of girls in white tops HPV vaccine cancer
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

All about HPV and HPV vaccines

I know I cut and paste this section to every article I write about HPV vaccines, but it’s the first step to HPV vaccine myth debunking. Some readers may be coming here for the first time, and they ought to know just how the HPV vaccine prevents cancer. 

However, I try to update this section when necessary with new information about either the disease or the vaccine. If you’ve read this section 47 times, just skip down to the next section where I discuss the key point of this article.

Genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA.  HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

It’s important to note that there are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans – however, only 40 of these strains are linked to one or more different cancers. Of those 40 strains, most are fairly rare.

Although the early symptoms of HPV infections aren’t serious and many HPV infections resolve themselves without long-term harm, HPV infections are causally 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:

In addition, there is some evidence that HPV infections are causally linked to skin and prostate cancers. The link to skin cancer is still preliminary, but there is much stronger evidence that HPV is linked to many prostate cancers.

HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco in that respect. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV – approximately 14 million Americans contract a new HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. The CDC also states that over 46,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year. It may be several times that amount worldwide.

There were two HPV vaccines on the world market before 2014. GSK, also known as GlaxoSmithKline, produced Cervarix, a bivalent (protects against two HPV strains) vaccine. It has been withdrawn from the US market (although available in many other markets), because of the competition from the quadrivalent (immunizes against four different HPV strains) and 9-valent (against nine HPV strains) Gardasil vaccines.

Merck manufactures Gardasil, probably the most popular HPV vaccine in the world. The first version of the vaccine, quadrivalent Gardasil, targets the two HPV genotypes known to cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two other HPV genotypes that cause genital warts. In Europe and other markets, Gardasil is known as Silgard.

The newer Gardasil 9, approved by the FDA in 2014, is a 9-valent vaccine, protecting against HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. It targets the four HPV strains found in the quadrivalent version, along with five additional ones that are linked to cervical and other HPV-related cancers. Both versions of Gardasil are prophylactic, meant to be given to females or males before they become exposed to possible HPV infection through intimate contact.

Gardasil is one of the easiest and best ways to prevent a few dangerous and, to abuse the definition slightly, common cancers that afflict men and women. Without a doubt, the HPV vaccine prevents cancer.

Currently, in the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that preteen girls and boys aged 11 or 12 be vaccinated against HPV. The HPV vaccine is also recommended for teenage girls and young women up to the age of 26 who did not receive it when they were younger, and teenage boys and young men up to the age of 21.

Let me sum this all up so that if you come away from this section with nothing else, you get this summary. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. HPV causes 46,000 cancers a year in the USA alone. The HPV vaccine prevents becoming infected by HPV, which means you are protected from these cancers.

HPV vaccine and cervical cancer study

In a paper published on 22 January 2024 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Tim J Palmer, MD, FRCPath, Public Health Scotland, Glasgow, UK, and colleagues monitored the records of all women born between 1988 and 1996 who were eligible for cancer screening, about 450,000 women. Of that group, 40,000 were vaccinated between the ages of 12 and 13, and 124,000 received the vaccines at or after 14 years of age. The remaining women, nearly 300,000, were not vaccinated.

The types of vaccine administered to the cohorts monitored in the study changed as newer ones became available, covering more types of HPV. Until 2012, the vaccine in use was the bivalent Cervarix. Then the quadrivalent Gardasil was administered until 2023. After that point, the 9-valent Gardasil 9 was introduced.

Here are the key results from the study:

  • There were 8.4 cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 unvaccinated women.
  • NO cases of cervical cancer were found among the women who were vaccinated before they turned 14, even if they had only received one or two doses of the vaccine rather than the full, three-dose protocol.
  • Women who received the three-dose protocol between the ages of 14 and 22 also benefited significantly. The incidence of cervical cancer in this group was 3.2 cases per 100,000 women, over 2.5X lower rate than the unvaccinated group.

The authors concluded:

Our findings confirm that the bivalent vaccine prevents the development of invasive cervical cancer and that even 1 or 2 doses 1 month apart confer benefit if given at 12-13 years of age. At older ages, 3 doses are required for statistically significant vaccine effectiveness.

Summary

The research is becoming overwhelming — the HPV vaccine, Gardasil9, prevents cervical cancer in women. It is most effective when given at 12-13 years of age, but it is still very effective when the full three doses are given at older ages.

Before the COVID-19 vaccine became available, I would claim that the HPV vaccine was the most hated by the anti-vaccine world. It boggles my mind because the vaccine is one of the few ways you can prevent cancer. That blueberry kale smoothie will not affect your cancer risk, but the HPV vaccine, especially when given to young girls will prevent cervical cancer.

This does not mean that the HPV vaccine is only useful to women because it also prevents cancers that are specific to males and those cancers that afflict both men and women.

Get the HPV vaccine for yourself if you are an adult under the age of 45 or for your children. Stop cancer.

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Michael Simpson

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