As far as cancer prevention programs go, none can rival cervical cancer screening. Aside from Pap tests, there is the HPV vaccine. While Pap tests detect potentially harmful cellular changes at an early stage, the HPV vaccine reduces the risk of said changes happening altogether.
But, why is HPV prevention so important? Known as the Human Papilloma Virus, it’s the chief cause of cervical cancer. Additionally, it causes some forms of penile cancer. Most people contract it during their lifetime, usually through sexual activity. The HPV vaccine protects the recipient against the nine strains that are most likely to cause cervical or penile cancer.
The HPV vaccine was an astounding development. At the time of its introduction, the FDA felt that introducing it prior to sexual activity would provide the best use. Recently, it has been decided that those aged up to 45 can receive it.
Why the sudden change in how we use the HPV vaccine?
Although it’s still the case that the HPV vaccine is most effective when used before a person becomes sexually active, introducing it after still provides protection. Until recently, it was recommended for use between the ages of 9 and 26. The vaccine schedule would differ according to age. But, those were the limits.
Interestingly, the FDA didn’t carry out a new study. Instead, it reviewed its original literature. At the point of introducing the original version of Gardasil, the FDA made its recommendations on the basis of a study including 3200 women aged between 27 and 45. According to the study’s findings, women aged between 27 and 45 won’t have developed all of the nine cancer-causing strains of HPV. Therefore, the new rationale is that being able to prevent a few is better than not being able to prevent any at all.
A smaller study covering male penile cancer rates also found that men up to the age of 45 could see the benefits of the HPV vaccine.
Will using the HPV vaccine later in life make a significant impact?
Although HPV vaccine uptake is increasing, so is the number of people developing HPV. So far, the cervical cancer screening program remains as the most successful of its kind in the history of medicine. However, with HPV being the primary cause, combatting rising rates could become the pinnacle of preventative medicine.
Until the FDA’s proposals are rolled out, it’s difficult to appreciate the full impact. But, by lowering the chinks in the armor that we all have when it comes to cancer prevention, this move is pretty much excellent.