By: Dr. Charles Barta, Green Valley News and Sun
Gardasil. The first vaccine that prevents cancer. A miracle on the level of the polio vaccine (at least according to Texas Gov. Rick Perry). No more young women dropping dead in the streets form cervical cancer.
Am I exaggerating? I personally saw how Gardasil was presented to the Colorado state Senate several years ago.
Many states now mandate that all girls get the vaccine as preteens. Those who opt out go through a procedure to do so and they and their parents face the scorn of others. Parents are pressured into having their kids vaccinated.
Gardasil does not prevent cancer. It prevents the two types of HPV virus that causes 70 percent of cervical cancers. There are over 100 types of this virus, most of which are low risk.
Cutting 70 percent sounds pretty good. Most women have had an HPV infection (largely not symptomatic) by age 50. But let’s look at the statistics more closely.
A study at the beginning of the Gardasil era (2006) showed that 2.3 percent of women up to age 25 had evidence of one of the two types of HPV virus that are the main cause of cancer. That’s a lot. But, data shows that the virus disappears approximately 90 percent of the time without causing problems. So now we have 2.3 out of 1,000 women below age 25 who have a condition that could develop into cancerous changes. Does that mean they will all get cancer? Not at all. Cervical cancer develops in slow stages. It is believed it take about 10 years for the virus to cause changes in the cells that lead to cancer. If detected, these changes are easily treatable. And not all women are at equal risk. Those with high-risk behaviors, such as drug use, have a much higher rate of developing invasive cancer.
The CDC published cervical cancer statistics that show the reality of the disease.
For every 100,000 women, 6.6 in Arizona developed cervical cancer, and of these 1.3 died (2004). From 2003-07, the CDC found zero cases of cervical cancer deaths in women below 21. Eleven other cancers cause more deaths, with cervical cancers due to the two forms of the HPV virus prevented by Gardasil resulting in just over 1 percent of the total.
More importantly, these deaths can largely be prevented by following PAP smear recommendations. When the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, geared to low-income women, was implemented, a dramatic drop in cervical cancer resulted. Most cervical cancer deaths occur in women who have never been screened or had a PAP smear within the last five years.
The cure for cervical cancer is largely early detection of cell changes years before a cancer develops.
Merck sold $1.4 billion worth of Gardasil the first year it was available. This is the same company that promoted Vioxx while withholding data from the public that showed cardiac deaths. Side effects of the vaccine? We have been continually reassured that they are not significant. But the Indian government recently stopped all trials of Gardasil after four young girls died and 120 developed significant apparent side effects early in a clinical trial.
There are now growing reports of excess deaths and serious side effects in the U.S., leading many experts to question the real value of the vaccine. Even if Gardasil proves to be completely safe, is there evidence of benefits above regular screening to justify the huge cost of widespread vaccinations?
But it doesn’t end with vaccinating young girls. Since the vaccine is not believed to provide lifelong immunity, there is little doubt that booster shots every 10 years or so for many women will be recommended. Of course, boys and men, who are part of the communication of the virus, need to be vaccinated starting at age 9.
Now, we’re into many billions of dollars to possibly prevent the rare few cervical cancer deaths that could be prevented by screening. Cervical cancer is not breast cancer. It develops slowly and is virtually 100 percent curable when found early. Breast cancer can kill even when detected early.