University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Division of Gynecologic Oncology director Warner Huh, M.D. says a new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has the potential to reduce cervical cancer rates, while reducing the number of exams a woman would have in her lifetime.
Huh was one of the authors in a multinational study on a diverse group of women published February in The New England Journal of Medicine. He says proper vaccinations could make a huge difference in HPV prevention.
“Now, we have a second-generation vaccine that protects against 90 percent of the HPV viruses that cause cervical cancer. This vaccine can literally eradicate the majority of cervical cancer, if given widely and appropriately.”
The trial included more than 14,000 women ages 16-26 from more than a dozen countries — including the United States. UAB says this vaccine is an advance from the 2006 FDA approved vaccine marketed by Merck & Co. as Gardasil — which Huh helped to develop and test as well.
This isn’t Huh’s only contribution to HPV research this year. In January, Huh was the lead author of what is considered the most defining change in women’s cancer screening in two decades. He helped write a new interim guidance about health advantages using only HPV tests, rather than a Pap smear, as a primary cervical cancer screening.
“We’re really on the verge of a dramatic change that will positively affect all individuals, particularly women, in the United States,” says Huh, “The challenge will be to get the new vaccine into widespread use among young women.”
The Gardasil 9 vaccine requires three injections taken at day one, month two and month six. Gardasil 9 was approved by the FDA in December 2014 for use in females ages 9-26 and males ages 9-15.
“The real issue is we need to improve vaccination rates in this country. The population benefit seen in countries like Australia has been truly impressive. We should learn and adopt their vaccination practices,” Huh says.
According to the CDC, more than 12,000 U.S. women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2011, and more than 4,000 died.