Professor Ian Frazer, immunologist and developer of the cervical cancer vaccine in his office at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. Picture: Patrick Hamilton (Source: The Daily Telegraph)
Dr Gino Pecoraro
Everyone loves a success story and there can be few greater in health than Professor Ian Frazer’s anti-cervical cancer HPV vaccine.
The discovery of a vaccine to prevent infection by the wart virus is nothing short of world-changing.
It has been estimated to have saved the lives of one million women globally and we can all be proud this breakthrough occurred in Queensland.
Recently, Prof Frazer was a speaker at the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation appeal to raise funds to enable vaccination programs to be undertaken by volunteers in countries such as Nepal and Bhutan where cervical cancer remains a leading cause of death among young women.
It is estimated that infections of one type or another are involved in up to 20 per cent of all cancers.
Viruses from the HPV family cause genital warts in both sexes and have been implicated in mouth, throat and anal cancers.
Recently, American actor Michael Douglas publicly stated he believed his throat cancer was as a result of HPV infection which helped bring the matter to the world’s attention.
He has since changed his view but there is plenty of scientific evidence to suggest wart virus can cause head and neck cancers.
When a virus infects a cell, it inserts some of its genetic material into the infected cell’s DNA and takes over control of that cell to produce more copies of itself. Instead of doing its regular job, the infected cell is reduced to being a factory producing virus particles.
This is the way viruses reproduce and when an infected cell explodes or dies, it releases millions of new viral particles which can then go on to infect other cells.
The HPV virus also causes insertion of a cancer forming “oncogene” into the cell DNA, leading to production of proteins which turn off some of the cell’s protective mechanisms. In this way, an infected cell can be “transformed” into a malignant cell.
About 80 per cent of school-aged girls get the vaccine and this should decrease the risk of cervical cancer by up to 80 per cent.
The recent decision by the Federal Government to fund vaccination programs for school-aged boys will further halt the spread of the virus.
Alarmingly, over half of Australia’s women aged 20-25 don’t have regular smears – this remains a significant risk factor for developing cancer. Of the women who die from cervical cancer, 90 per cent have not had their recommended smears.
This last statistic is difficult to accept when we consider that for millions of women in less fortunate countries, effective screening is simply not available.
Source: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/ your-health-vaccine-puts-brakes-on-cervical-cancer/story-fnihsr9v-1226658936468