Promising Cervical Cancer Vaccine
Defends Against Most Common Types of HPV
"At the moment, I think the important thing is to determine whether the vaccine works. Until you know the vaccine works, there's not much point in worrying about how to deliver it," says Ian Frazer, HPV researcher at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Nevertheless, he says, "All the data to date show that this is going to be an effective vaccine."
Even if it is a success and millions are immunized, it wouldn't be the end of HPV vaccine research. It would not help women who are already infected. What's more, other types of HPV cause 30% of all cervical cancers. This vaccine isn't designed to protect against those.
An ideal vaccine would cover the vast majority of HPV types and cure infection in addition to preventing it. Frazer is working to create such a vaccine, but because it must be far more complex than Villa's vaccine, the work has been going slowly.
Eventually, it would be good to vaccinate men, too. "It's doable, if people put money behind it," Villa says.
If all men and women were vaccinated, HPV could be wiped out. "In principle, although I suspect not in practice, this is a virus that could potentially be eliminated the same way as we have eliminated smallpox," Frazer says.
For now, HPV will remain a major threat to women's health. Doctors urge women to get yearly Pap smears -- a test that looks for cervical cells that aren't normal, signaling the presence of HPV. These abnormal cells don't always turn into cancer, but they should be watched closely.