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A new  vaccine to protect against one  of the strains of the virus that causes cervical cancer has been found to be 100 per cent effective, early trial results from the US reveal. 

Large trials of a  similar vaccine that offers protection against multiple viral strains are now underway. 

If it is successful, a product like this could save thousands of lives each year and make regular cervical smear testing almost obsolete. 

The human papilloma virus (HPV), is responsible for nearly all of the cases . There are about 80 different subtypes of the HPV virus but only a few will dramatically increase the cancer risk. 

The research team,  at the University of Washington in Seattle led by Laura Koutsky, gave three separate doses of the vaccine to approximately half of a group of 2300 women aged 16 to 23. 

About eighteen months after the final dose was given, none of those who were vaccinated against the human papilloma virus subtype 16 had become infected with the virus, whilst nine of the women who were not vaccinated had. 

Most women who are infected with this subtype are about 100 times more likely to develop cervical cancer, compared to those women who are virus free. 

A clinical consultant at Cancer Research UK (Anne Szarewski), stated that the results of the early Phase two trials are indeed very exciting. 

David Jenkins, at Nottingham University who believes in prevention rather than cure, agrees.

He is currently leading one of several  final-stage vaccine trials on a total of around 6000 women worldwide. This involves a similar vaccine developed by the same manufacturer, Merck.

In a quote from Dr Jenkins, "We are conducting this current study to see if a vaccine against a number of different human papilloma virus types can reduce the frequency of pre-cancerous lesions,". 

The Phase three studies, will be designed to offer protection against subtypes 6, 11, 16, and 18, which together are responsible for causing nearly 80 per cent of pre-cancerous cervical lesions. 

Merck says, that the trials have been designed to be run for around five years, and If they are successful a new vaccine for widespread use could be available shortly afterwards. 

Dr Jenkins says that new vaccines that would offer protection against all of the strains of HPV linked to cervical cancer, could soon be possible and would make regular cervical smear testing almost obsolete. 

There is however a major proviso, that the vaccines would only be effective for preventing the infection in women who are not already infected with HPV." 

HPV is sexually transmitted. This means it will have to be given before any sexual activity starts, in girls not older than around 12 to 14 years of age. This also means that it would be at least another generation  before a vaccine could completely replace the screening program. 

Szarewski says that other teams have developed experimental cervical cancer vaccines, but Merck's is the most advanced.  

Nearly 500,000 women worldwide develop this problem each year. 

In the UK alone, more than 3000 women are diagnosed with the cancer each year, and of these 3000, nearly 1300 will die from the disease. 

If it is detected early enough, treatments can be very effective. Most deaths from cervical cancer are happening in the developing world, where there are no screening programs. 

Dr Jenkins says that, "I would hope that this will be marketed at a price that will make it available to the developing world". "I personally will be very disappointed if it is not."


Source:  Public Domain

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