Federal health officials say that a vaccine has caused a sharp decline among teenage girls in the prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that the infection rate decreased by 56 percent since the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006.
In a video interview, Memorial Sloan Kettering gynecologic cancer surgeon Carol L. Brown said these results represent a major advance in the prevention of cervical cancer. She also discussed the findings on CBS This Morning.
“It’s a huge, huge breakthrough — it’s the first evidence that we have that using the HPV vaccine in teenage girls in the United States is really effective,” she said.
More than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases are caused by one of the HPV viruses that the vaccine addresses. HPV also causes some other types of cancer, and vaccination is recommended for both teenage girls and boys.
Dr. Brown has played a leading role in efforts to increase awareness of the link between HPV and cervical cancer and the importance of increasing the vaccination rate. She was not involved in the recent study, which is reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
“This study is so important because it’s evidence for all those parents out there that aren’t sure or didn’t want to give their daughters and sons a vaccine that it really works,” she said. “When you’re faced with the opportunity to give your kid a shot that’s going to prevent them from getting cancer or prevent them from basically giving cancer to someone else — why wouldn’t you do it? It’s safe and it’s very, very effective, and this study proves that.”
Despite the apparent effectiveness of the HPV vaccine, only about 30 percent of teenage girls in the United States have received the vaccination. Other countries, such as Denmark and Britain, have vaccination rates of more than 80 percent.
Dr. Brown explained that each year approximately 12,000 women in the United States develop cervical cancer, and about 4,000 of them will die from the disease. According to the CDC, the low vaccination rate in the United States represents 50,000 “preventable tragedies,” meaning that 50,000 girls alive today will develop cervical cancer during the course of their lifetime that would have been prevented if the vaccination rate were 80 percent.
“If we could increase it to 80 percent we would be able to save 50,000 lives in this coming generation to not die from cervical cancer, so it’s hugely important,” Dr. Brown said.