By Kathleen O'Neil
Medical experts in a City of Hope public forum have strongly recommended girls and young women receive a vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.
However, a public health expert stopped short of saying the vaccine should be made mandatory in California, as proposed in a bill sponsored by local Assemblymember Ed Hernandez.
A new vaccine against four strains of the virus has been found to be more than 99 percent effective in protecting girls and women who have not previously been exposed to HPV. Pap screening for abnormal cells in the cervix has significantly reduced cervical cancer rates since the test was introduced in the 1950s.
Women who are not screened still have high rates of the cancer. That group includes immigrants and Latinas in Los Angeles County, said Sharon Wilczynski, M.D., Ph.D., gynecologic oncologist at City of Hope.
“This is monumental. It’s the first time we have a vaccine that can prevent cancer,” said Ilana Cass, M.D., gynecologic oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, during the discussion at the Duarte, Calif., campus May 17.
But before mandating use of the vaccine among all girls entering seventh grade, as proposed, the county would need a reliable vaccine supply and increased funding for vaccines for those who have no health insurance, as well as public acceptance of the vaccine, said Laurel Fowler, immunization program deputy director for Los Angeles County. The vaccine has not yet been tested in or approved for use in boys.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 6.2 million people contract HPV every year in the United States. About 11,000 women are diagnosed with new cases of cervical cancer and about 4,000 women die of it in the U.S. each year.