It's hard to miss the hype surrounding the introduction of Gardasil, the first vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV), the infectious agent that causes changes in the lining of the cervix that can eventually lead to cervical cancer. Gardasil protects against just strains 6, 11, 16, and 18.
In the tropical nation of Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, the most common form of HPV is a strain that is not prevented by vaccination, HPV45. This also-dangerous strain of the disease is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer in the Caribbean, and it also can be found in mouth and throat tissues of 6.6 per cent of women in Tobago.
That's why Gardasil is no cure-all for cervical cancer, and the fact is, it's not a cure-all for North American women, either. A study of 116 women with vulvar carcinoma at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center found that 65 had HPV16 and 2 had HPV18, both covered by the vaccine, but there were also :
- 12 cases of HPV33,
- 4 cases of HPV45,
- 6 cases of HPV52,
- 3 cases of HPV53, and
- 2 cases of HPV62,
for which Gardasil is useless, as well as a number of infections with more than one strain, for which Gardasil would at best be only partially helpful.
For these women, however, there are still natural methods of preventing cervical cancer of demonstrated efficacy.
Ragin CC, Wheeler VW, Wilson JB, Bunker CH, Gollin SM, Patrick AL, Taioli E. Distinct distribution of HPV types among cancer-free Afro-Caribbean women from Tobago. Biomarkers. 2007 Sep-Oct;12(5):510-22.