Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer found in women. A study published earlier this year found that rates of occurrence and death from cervical cancer were higher than previously thought and that screening procedures need dramatic revision, particularly in correcting racial disparities. It is estimated that nearly 13,000 cases will be diagnosed and more than 4,000 women will die this year from cervical cancer in the United States.
Early detection is critical in treatment, but prevention is far preferable. The human papilloma virus (HPV) is found in about 99% of cervical cancers. Thus, prevention of cervical cancer now exists due to the development of HPV vaccines. One currently licensed HPV vaccine protects against nine strains of HPV, including those that cause approximately 95% of cervical cancer HPV strains in the United States, and up to 90% worldwide.
A recent study published in the British medical journal Lancet provides long-term follow-up on the effectiveness of the nine-valent vaccine in women immunized between the ages of 16 and 26. The University of Iowa was a leading U.S. participant among the 70 worldwide research sites that took part in this six-year-long clinical trial. The study compared the HPV vaccine with a control HPV vaccine that protects against 4 types of HPV. Dr. Jack Stapleton, Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, was the University of Iowa’s principal investigator.
Dr. Stapleton explained that the study showed that the nine-valent vaccine maintained effectiveness in preventing both HPV infections and pre-cancerous cervical lesions for the duration of the study, indicating that booster vaccines are not needed during this time period. Further, he noted that reducing HPV incidence not only reduces the risk of cervical cancer, but likely reduces the emotional stress and costs related to abnormal Pap smears. Because vaccine recipients produced fewer abnormal Pap smears, the study found that the need for follow-up testing was also reduced.
Dr. Stapleton cited the assistance of a number of people at Iowa who helped make this extensive study successful, including members of the University of Iowa Vaccine Research and Education Unit. “This is just one example of the great clinical vaccine research that is going on at Iowa,” Dr. Stapleton said.