excerpt from The Vaccine Guide
A Vaccine for Cervical Cancer: Does Your Daughter Need It?
The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine seems like a great idea, and states are rushing through legislation to require it for preadolescent girls. Prevent cervical cancer from this sexually transmitted disease by providing a vaccine before girls become sexually active. Unfortunately, real life is much more complicated than that ideal. Although 13 percent of American women are infected with HPV, and 80 percent of women will have acquired an HPV infection by the time they are 50 years old, only about 250,000 new cases of cervical cancer occur in a given year in the US. Most cases of HPV infection involve no symptoms and no complications. These statistics indicate that only a small percentage of those women infected with HPV actually develop cervical cancer. The progression to cervical cancer probably depends on other cofactors. For example, the World Health Organization attrubutes 30 percent of cervical cancer deaths in the US to smoking cigarettes. All of these facts should lead to the conclusion that holistic preventive measures may be our best option for the prevention of cancer, including cervical cancer. Avoiding carcinogens, eating a whole foods diet, and taking supplements with antioxidant qualities should all help create an internal environment that is healthy and less likely to encourage or allow the growth of cancer cells.
Although the HPV vaccine has been touted as a potential breakthrough is cancer prevention, it has not lived up to those expectations. There are at least 15 strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer, and the vaccine only the two most commonly associated with cancer. However, reasearchers are concerned that if the vaccine eliminates infection caused by those two, then the other strains may flourish and take their place as causes of cancer.
The encouraging news was that the vaccine prevented 100 percent of infections with the targeted strains. However, a study published in May 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the vaccine was only 17 percent effective in preventing grade 2 cervical cancer, and was not effective at all in preventing grade 3 cancers (Future, 2007). The researchers attributed this failure to disease caused by viral strains not present in the vaccine, and to the relative ineffectiveness of the vaccine in women who had been exposed to the virus prior to the administration of the vaccine. This latter situation has led policymakers to recommend the vaccine to young girls prior to their first sexual experience and possible exposure to HPV. But an editorial in the same issue of the Journal recommends that “a cautious approach may be warranted in light of important unanswered questions about overall vaccine effectiveness, duration of protection, and adverse effects that may emerge over time” (Sawaya, 2007)
In fact the vaccine does seem to cause its share of adverse effects. As of May 2007, over 1,600 adverse vaccination reactions had been reported to the government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. These included 371 “serious” reactions (paralysis, Bells Palsy, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and seizures). In addition, three girls died soon after the vaccine was administered. One of these deaths occurred within three hours after vaccination, due to a blood clot. The other two deaths occurred in girls aged 12 and 19, both from heart problems and/or blood clotting.
Like many other vaccines, this new entry into the crowded field of recommended vaccinations was first heralded as a breakthrough and life-saver. But on closer inspection and after just a brief period of use, the HPV vaccine has run aground on several points, including its unproven effectiveness and its propensity to inflict serious adverse reactions and deaths.
(1) the HPV vaccine contains only two of the 15 strains of the virus that contribute to cervical cancer,
(2) development of cervical cancer may depend upon other cofactors such as exposure to other carcinogens,
(3) the vaccine is ineffective for anyone previously exposed to the HPV virus,
(4) although the virus does prevent infections, in one study it proved to be only 17 percent effective in preventing cervical cancer
(5) the vaccine is associated with significant side effects
(6) other, safer measures make sense in the prevention of HPV infection and cervical cancer, including the use of condoms, a whole foods diet, nutritional supplements containing antioxidants, and avoidance of carcinogens such as cigarettes and pesticides.
The FUTURE II Study Group. Quadrivalent vaccine against human papillomavirus to prevent anogenital diseases. N Engl J Med 2007; 356:1928-1943.
Sawaya GF and Smith-McCune K. HPV Vaccination – More Answers, More Questions. N Engl J Med 2007; 356:1991-1993.