Feature: New cervical cancer jab 'raises questions about treatment success'

29 November 2011

Medical experts, politicians and the general public have long discussed preventative treatments for cervical cancer and the age at which such processes should take place. With the introduction of the first cervical cancer vaccine in 2008 and the subsequent adverse reactions and debate surrounding its long-term effects, can a new and seemingly improved jab be the next step forward in the treatment of a disease that affects hundreds of women each year?

From September next year, a new injection to protect young women from cervical cancer will be introduced to the wider market, according to the Department of Health.

The change in the current vaccination system from next year will see medical physicians using the Gardasil jab instead of Cervarix, which has been the preferred choice for the past four years across the UK. Gardasil will be used to protect against genital warts as well as building up an immune defence against the cancerous disease.

Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages. However, if and when they do develop they could include abnormal bleeding. While the causes of some cancers are unknown, it is widely believed that almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV is a very common virus that it spread during sex and is a common cause of genital warts, which the new vaccination will tackle - with specific focus on HPV types six and 11, which cause most cases of the warts.

Professor David Salisbury, the government's director of immunisation, said: "It's not unusual for the NHS to change vaccines or other medicines - it can happen following competitive tendering exercises or when new research findings come to light."

However, he denied that the update of cancer prevention treatment was due to a mistake in releasing the previous vaccine, which caused a string of widely reported adverse reactions in young girls.

Prof Salisbury added that the decisions made to change the jab were both "scientifically and economically justifiable".

A recent study by University of Michigan scientists found that vaccine development efforts focus on incidence rather than mortality rates and should put more emphasis on more difficult-to-treat cancers.

The researchers suggested that drug companies currently developing therapeutic cancer vaccines may be determining the cancers they target based on the number of annual cases, rather than the number of deaths caused by particular types of the disease. Limited research avenues by these drug companies could lead to a limited number of patients benefitting from the treatments, they concluded.

Matthew Davis, associate professor of pediatrics, internal medicine, and public policy at the University of Michigan Health System and Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy, commented: "The lack of a connection between therapeutic cancer vaccine development and cancer deaths means that vaccine development in this arena today may not best serve the needs of cancer patients tomorrow.

"As a primary care doctor, I would like to see innovations with therapeutic vaccines that target cancers where our current therapies are less effective than average."

Furthermore, UT Southwestern researchers found in a series of tests that an atypical metabolic pathway unique to some tumors could potentially provide a future target for drugs that could reduce or halt the spread of cancer.

Published in the journal Nature, the study's lead author described the finding similar to that of re-routing traffic on a major motorway and that treatments could become more effective with a direct way to infected cells.

Dr Ralph DeBerardinis, senior author of the study, mentioned that if the pathways are honed in further research then a direct route could potentially stop the regrowth of certain types of cancer.

The proportion of women in their 20s diagnosed with cervical cancer in England has risen significantly since the early 1990s, a report from Cancer Research UK stated.

With more women falling victim to the disease, and those aged 12 to 13 being encouraged to opt for a cancer jab, public health boards are increasingly aiming to raise awareness and increase understanding of the causes, symptoms and the potentially fatal dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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