Study provides evidence that HPV vaccine reduces infection associated with throat cancer

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The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects women against cervical cancer, also appears to likely to protect them against throat cancers caused by oral sex. In the 1980 s, 16 percent of oropharyngeal cancers were caused by sexually transmitted disease. This percentage is now up to 70 percent, making prevention increasingly important.

The impact of an HPV vaccine reducing cancers of the throat has long been anticipated, but there has been little evidence to support its benefits. While women are often encouraged to receive HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, there is less of an emphasis on the necessity for men to receive the vaccine. However, this study provides some useful insight suggesting that vaccination could prevent throat cancer, which affects both sexes.

The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute. The results show that Glaxo SmithKline s HPV vaccine, Cervarix, provided 93 percent protection against oropharyngeal (deep throat) infection by HPV 16 and HPV 18, which are cancer-causing types of HPV. The study included 5,840 sexually active women in Costa Rica aged 18 to 25, half of whom received Cervarix, half received placebo vaccine. Four years after being vaccinated, cells were collected from deep in the throat. Only one woman who had received the vaccine was infected with one of the two types of HPV which are cancer-causing. Fifteen women who received the placebo were infected.

However, there are limitations to the conclusions which can be drawn from this study. Because the study lasted for only four years, it cannot provide direct evidence that the vaccine prevents cancer. However, when taken with the ample body of knowledge linking HPV 16 and 18 to cancers of the throat, it is reasonable to expect that the HPV infected patients in this study would be at higher risk of eventually developing throat cancer.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross had this comment: We in public health are waging an uphill battle to make HPV vaccination widely accepted among teenage girls and young women before their inevitable exposure to HPV. As frustrating as that task has been, getting more boys and young men vaccinated will likely prove even more difficult. But it is a task well worth taking on, and winning, as accomplishing widespread protection from HPV will surely lead to a major decline in the incidence of several types of viral-related cancers. We have a cancer vaccine: let s use it!