I’m glad to see that this new vaccine is being rolled out in the UK from the start of this school year. As I have commented before, I am in favour of vaccinating against serious diseases and, while I am aware that this vaccine only protects against two strains of HPV, those two are the strains which are thought to lead to 70% of all cervical cancers. In common with most women, I feel that any reduction in the incidence of this ‘silent cancer’ is a really positive step forward in the combat against cancer. I know that every time I have my cervical smear test I always have a small worry about the results at the back of my mind for the couple of weeks I have to wait to hear back from the health authority. And I am apparently in a low risk category for developing the disease, so goodness only knows how worried I’d be if there were more of a risk of my having something wrong!
Unfortunately this vaccine doesn’t mean that we are about to have a major break through with regard to preventing cancer, as it is unusual in that HPV is known to be a cause of cervical cancer. However, with over 2700 women being diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, of whom well over 900 died in 2006, it has to be such a good thing that, statistically speaking, nearly 1900 women a year will be spared the trauma of this diagnosis, subsequent treatment and the prospect of premature death. It will of course take time to reach this point, as most cervical cancers are not detected until patients are in their thirties. And also, I doubt very much that the government could ever hope to achieve a 100% take up rate for the vaccine. However, it offers hope to the many parents of daughters who can think of nothing worse than having to watch their girls going through such trauma when they should be at the peak of their lives with families, careers etc to live for. And not only daughters, if you stop to think about it, and not only cervical cancer. HPV is also known to increase the risk of anal, vaginal, head and neck cancers as well as cancer of the penis and vulva. So this is a great step forward. It is always exciting to hear about new breakthroughs in the world of medicine, especially those which can prevent so much suffering and heartbreak, both to prospective patients and to their families.