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Large Study Reveals Benefits of Cervical Cancer Vaccine

The results of a large international study show that adolescents and young women who were given a vaccine to prevent a sexually transmitted disease called the human papillomavirus (HPV) decreased their risk of several adverse health issues in addition to decreasing their risk of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Specifically, the vaccine decreased the number of abnormal Pap tests, biopsies, and genital warts.

"Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide, right behind breast cancer in women," says co-researcher Kevin Ault, MD, associate professor in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine, in an Emory news release. "This vaccine has been shown to reduce the number of biopsies and painful treatments in women, while also reducing cancer risks in a woman's life."

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its approval of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine does not prevent all forms of cervical cancer, and thus it is important for women to receive regular Pap tests to screen for the disease. However, the vaccine has been shown to prevent certain types caused by a commonly sexually transmitted disease called the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are over 80 different strains of HPV, affecting more than 40 million Americans. While the majority of HPV strains do not pose health risks, a few strains increase the risk for cervical cancer (such as HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, and HPV-45).

Dr. Ault and his colleagues studied the vaccine in a 5-year, multi-site international study. The researchers examined records of over 17,000 women between the ages of 15 and 26 who were enrolled in one of two clinical trials examining the vaccine targeting HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. Women in one group did not have HPV while some women in the other group did have HPV. Among the women without HPV, the study showed that the vaccine was up to 100 percent effective in reducing the risk of certain types of HPV, cervical cancer, and genital warts. In the group with some HPV patients, the vaccine reduced the changes of cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers, genital warts, Pap test abnormalities, and abnormal biopsies.

The researchers believe the results of the study indicated that the vaccine lowers the rates of cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers in addition to the other health benefits noted in their research.

"Many of the treatments for HPV today can cause problems later in life for pregnant women, which can lead to premature delivery of their babies. We hope getting this vaccine during a woman's younger years will prevent those complications, as well," said Ault in the news release.

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