New Cervical Cancer Vaccine Prevents Other Gynecologic Tumors

June 3, 2007
Naomi Pfeiffer

Internal Medicine World Report, August 2006, Volume 0, Issue 0

ATLANTA—The newly approved vaccine against cervical cancer also protects against other types of gynecologic cancers and possibly even certain tumors of the head and neck, according to data presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Data reported at the meeting on the human papillomavirus (HPV) quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil) show the vaccine is 100% effective in preventing vaginal and vulvar cancers.

Cervical cancer is second only to breast cancer as the most common cancer in women, with some 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths each year globally.

For this new study, which began in 2002, investigators randomly assigned 18,000 women (aged 15-26 years) to receive either 3 doses of the HPV quadrivalent vaccine or placebo over a period of 6 months. During the next 2 years, 24 of the placebo recipients developed HPV-associated vaginal or vulvar precancers compared with none of the vaccinated women.

“In human disease, there has never been a vaccine this effective,” said lead investigator Jorma Paavonen, MD, professor and chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Helsinki, Finland.

In addition to preventing cancer, the new vaccine prevents infection with 2 strains of the virus that cause anal and genital warts, Dr Paavonen said, noting that HPV occurs in the majority of vaginal and vulvar cancers and “is linked to penile and anal cancers in men. HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease on earth,” he said.

HPV is also found in malignancies of the tongue, tonsils, and pharynx, suggesting a head and neck cancer association, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin that was also presented at the meeting.

The FDA announced the approval of the cervical cancer vaccine following the meeting, prompting this comment from ASCO President Gabriel N. Hortobagyi, MD: “The approval of the HPV vaccine is a major advance….The vaccine has the potential to dramatically reduce the toll of cervical cancer in the United States and throughout the world. It even opens up the concept of eliminating a cancer in our lifetime.”