How effective is cervical cancer vaccination

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Six and a half years. This is the unrivalled result revealed by the authors of a study on the vaccine Cervarix. This vaccine has prevented up to 100% of lesions associated with the HPV-16 and/or HPV-18 type viruses.

These viruses are responsible for around 70% of cervical cancers. A form of cancer that claims 270,000 victims worldwide each year. Over 80% of cases occur in developing countries. France is not without its casualties. Around 3,400 cases of cervical cancer are identified each year in France – 3,387 in 2000 – and over 1,000 women pay with their lives.

There are now two vaccines available in France: Gardasil – which protects against the HPV-6, 11, 16 and 18 viruses. In addition to the viruses responsible for cervical cancer, it also offers protection against two serotypes responsible for genital warts (condyloma acuminata). The other vaccine, Cervarix, exclusively targets cervical cancer. It also aims to provide long-term immunity. Its effectiveness and tolerance has just been demonstrated over a six and half year period. But that’s not the end of the story. Monitoring will continue for another 3 years.

But although these vaccinations are effective, they are also costly. A series of three injections is needed with a per unit cost of around 150 euros. And the length of immunity the vaccine provides is naturally paramount. To sum up, the fact that there are two vaccines to combat cervical cancer is a genuine plus for public health. However, it is not a magic solution to the public health problem posed by this type of cancer:

* because these vaccines are powerless to prevent around 30% of these cancers;

* because even with vaccination, regular screening for precancerous lesions will still be required – for two years after the age of 25, then once every 3 years if the first two tests are negative. And that applies to all women, whether vaccinated or not, right up to the age of 65;

Because although cervical cancer is sexually transmitted, there are other cofactors that favour development, including smoking, having a large number of pregnancies, using oral contraception for more than 5 years or having had other sexually transmissible diseases.

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