Cervical cancer vaccine breakthrough

TRIALS on a vaccine for cervical cancer have shown it protects women for up to four-and-a-half years, according to research published yesterday.

The new research, published by The Lancet, involved studying a vaccine for the common types of Human Papilloma Virus, HPV-16 and HPV-18. The sexually transmitted virus is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. Risk of contracting HPV increases with increasing numbers of sexual partners.

The research, which took place in the US, involved 800 women. Dr Diane Harper, of the Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire, and her team conducted follow-up tests, using smear test samples, on the women who took part in a 2004 trial of the vaccine. The women had either received three doses of the HPV-16/HPV-18 vaccine or a dummy pill. The researchers found that women given the vaccine had high levels of antibodies against HPV-16 and HPV-18 for over four years after receiving the last dose.

The vaccine was effective against persistent and new infections and also protected against infection with HPV-45 and HPV-31 - the third and fourth most common types of HPV.

Cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb) kills 73 women in Ireland every year, according to a report launched in February by the National Cancer Registry (NCR) and the Women’s Health Council. It is the ninth most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in Ireland and the 12th most common cause of cancer-related death. On average, each year 180 women are diagnosed with the illness and more than 800 women are diagnosed with cervical carcinoma in situ, a pre-cancerous lesion of the cervix. Half of all cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women aged 46 and under. The average age at death is 56 years.

An estimated 2,900 women are living with cervical cancer in Ireland. The NCR report found a strong trend of increasing risk of cervical cancer with increasing deprivation and women living in the most deprived areas had an incidence rate 2.6-times higher than those in the least deprived areas. Survival in Ireland is slightly lower than the European average.

Well-organised, smear-based, cervical screening programmes are effective in reducing incidence and mortality from cervical cancer, in the population, but screening in Ireland is restricted to a pilot programme in the Mid-West.

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