Posts Tagged ‘HPV’

Cancer Vaccines Offer Hope

August 20th, 2019

Vaccines, as you probably know, are medicines that help your body fight disease. If you’re like most people, you received vaccinations against a bunch of disorders – from chickenpox to whooping cough – when you were a kid. Vaccines work with your immune system to recognize and destroy harmful substances, such as disease-causing viruses, that attack your body.

Scientists today are exploring new and better ways to boost the power of the immune system, using vaccines aimed at battling cancer. Cancer vaccines can be used to prevent or treat cancer.

Preventive vaccines currently available include the HPV vaccine, which protects against human papillomavirus (HPV). An HPV infection can lead to cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine is another preventive cancer vaccine. Hepatitis B infection can cause liver cancer.

Vaccines to treat cancer are a type of immunotherapy because they work directly with your body’s immune system. Cancer treatment vaccines can do several things. These include destroying residual cancer cells after other treatments, stop a tumor from growing or spreading, and prevent cancer that was treated from coming back.

Currently, there are only a handful of active immunotherapies that are approved for treating cancer. There are, however, hundreds more being investigated in clinical trials, in which cancer patients can participate. Clinical trials are research studies that test the safety and effectiveness of new medications, therapies or devices.

While there are numerous cancer clinical trials ongoing, estimates suggest only three percent to six percent of eligible cancer patients participate in them. This not only slows the progress of new treatment development, it also means more than 90 percent of cancer patients may be missing out on potentially life-saving new treatments.

An example is a vaccine developed by researchers at the University of California San Diego Health and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, which is currently in clinical trials. This vaccine, which is for people with deadly metastatic cancer, is specifically created to match each patient’s cancer mutations and immune system.

Study researchers begin by testing patients’ tumors and identifying the neoantigens, or mutations, that cause their immune systems to respond. Researchers then culture the neoantigens with the patients’ T-cells, a type of immune system cell, and give patients a series of three vaccines of the modified T-cells.

To ensure the T-cells remain activated once they reach patients’ tumors, researchers also give patients the immunotherapy medication Keytruda. The bolstered T-cells then go to work destroying the tumor cells.

Another clinical trial, led by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, tested a combination immunotherapy for the treatment of two types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. The two types are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

The treatment tested was a combination of an experimental antibody developed by researchers at Stanford and a commercially available anti-cancer antibody called rituximab.

The experimental antibody works by blocking CD47, a protein that inhibits immune cells called macrophages from attacking and devouring cancer cells. Rituximab amplifies signals to the macrophages to do their job of consuming the cancer cells.

The results of this small, multicenter clinical trial are promising. Half of the 22 people enrolled in phase 1 of the trial had a positive response to the therapy, and about one-third went into complete remission.

These are just two examples of clinical trials looking at new cancer treatments that take advantage of patients’ disease-fighting immune systems. Researchers are hosting many more trials to test vaccines for other types of cancer.

These include cancer of the bladder, breast, cervix, colon, rectum, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and prostate. Other clinical trials are investigating treatments for brain tumors, leukemia, melanoma and myeloma.

If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, talk with your doctor about appropriate studies for your situation. You can also look for clinical trials being conducted in your area at

By participating in a clinical trial, you may discover a life-altering treatment that works for you when others have failed. You may also help make a new therapy available to others with cancer who previously had no hope. Talk to your doctor and consider taking part in a clinical trial.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

August 13th, 2019

Why a vaccine this year may be more important than ever

The hottest days of the summer traditionally occur during a span of days that begins in early July and ends in the middle of August. Better known as the “Dog Days of Summer,’’ this period ends this year on the day just before school begins across the state of Florida.

The beginning of the school year also falls in the middle of National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance held every year in the middle of August to highlight the importance of vaccinations for all people, no matter their age.

The goal of National Immunization Awareness Month is to raise awareness and educate people on the role vaccines play in preventing a variety of serious and sometimes deadly diseases, and it is taking on added importance this year.

With nearly a thousand cases already reported, the measles outbreak of 2019 already stands as the largest outbreak since 1994 and the largest since measles was declared eliminated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000.

That outbreak has affected people in 26 states, including Florida, and public health officials say the spread is due in no small part to a lack of information regarding vaccines, which some believe to be a cause of autism.

Scientific studies have proved there is no link between vaccines and their ingredients autism and that with very few exceptions, vaccines are safe.

The rise in measles cases this year is not due solely to a lack of vaccines, of course. The virus has also been picked up and spread from people traveling from countries where measles remains a common malady.

That, though, is one reason getting a vaccine this year may be more important than ever. With measles cases already on the rise, the chances of someone unknowingly getting the measles virus while on summer vacation has increased.

Consequently, the days and weeks leading up to the start of the school year are the best time to get vaccinated, and it’s not just small children attending school for the first time who may need to be vaccinated.

The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV virus, is one of the most common, affecting nearly all men and women at some point in their lifetime. Nearly 80 million people in the United States alone are currently infected with HPV, which attacks about 14 million Americans annually.

Teenagers and pre-teens are among those often infected by the disease, which can be spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. The issues associated with HPV often go away on their own after a year or two, but the HPV virus can linger and lead to certain cancers.

HPV is annually the cause of about 30,000 cancer cases, including cancer of the vagina, cervix and vulva in women and cancer of the penis in men. Thankfully, a simple vaccine can prevent those and other cancers from developing.

The CDC recommends that before their 12th or 13th birthday, all boys and girls get two doses of the HPV vaccine. Because the HPV vaccine works best when administered prior to someone getting HPV, doctors says the HPV vaccine can be given as early as age 9.

Because of the measles outbreak, some older adults are even being encouraged to receive a vaccine booster shot this year. People born between 1963 and 1967, for example, may have received an ineffective vaccine, health officials have said.

As with any medicine, people should always consult with a doctor before receiving any vaccinations. But given the measles outbreak and growing cases of HPV, this year, more than most, is a year in which that consultation could prove critical to good health.

Seeking Cervical Health

January 8th, 2018

In the past, cervical cancer was one of the top cancer killers of women in the United States. But with the introduction of the Pap smear in the 1950s and a growing focus on getting that test, cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths decreased by more than 60 percent. Today, cervical cancer ranks 14th among most common cancers affecting American women.

Yet, as we wrap up 2017, we learn there were approximately 12,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnosed last year, with about 4,200 deaths. (They’re still tabulating.) That’s a lot fewer deaths than there were in 1975 (5.6 per 100.000 women), but it’s still too many. This month, let’s take a closer look at cervical cancer and its risk factors, and see what we can do to lower our risk and establish cervical health.Graphic from

In simple terms, cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. This can occur in just about any area of the body, and in some cases, the exact reason the abnormal cells begin to grow is unclear. Cervical cancer begins in the cells that line a woman’s cervix. The cervix is the lower section of the uterus that connects the main part of the uterus to the vagina.

Like it does in many types of cancer, genetics plays a key role in the development of cervical cancer. The growth and division of cells is controlled by our cells’ DNA, which makes up our genes. Cervical cancer can be initiated by mutations to that DNA, causing the cells to grow out of control. With cervical cancer, there are risk factors that make this process more likely to occur.

Infection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the strongest risk factors for cervical cancer. HPV has been found to produce proteins that affect certain genes and allows cervical cells to overgrow. HPV also causes changes to other genes that can lead to the development of cancer. It greatly increases a woman’s chances of getting the disease.

Regrettably, HPV, primarily a sexually transmitted infection, is very common. About nine in ten people will be infected at some point in their lives. Fortunately, today there are very safe and effective vaccines to prevent HPV infection. These vaccines are most effective if given to boys and girls before they become sexually active.

There are other risk factors that increase the odds of developing cervical cancer. These include having a family history of cervical cancer, smoking, having a weakened immune system, being infected with chlamydia (another STI), eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and being overweight. Long-term use of birth control pills and use of IUDs can also contribute, as can having multiple babies and having your first baby before you were 17 years old.

In most cases, cervical cancer begins with pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix that, without intervention, can develop further into full-fledged cancer. That’s where Pap tests have proven their worth. Pap smears can detect these pre-cancerous changes when done on a routine basis. They can also catch the cancer in its early, most treatable stages.

In the early 1970s, the most common treatments for cervical cancer were cone biopsy and hysterectomy. Today, common treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy, and most often a combination of these treatments is used. Treatments chosen depends on whether the cancer is caught at an early stage or is advanced. For stage 1, or early cervical cancer, the five-year survival rate is about 93 percent.

Ninety-three percent is pretty good, but that’s if you catch the cancer very early on. To do that, you need to keep to your routine pelvic exam and Pap test schedule. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for how often to have these tests performed. These can vary by age and number of individual risk factors. There are additional steps to take to reduce your risk as well.

One step is to reduce your chance of HPV infection. Limit your number of sexual partners and use a condom every time you have sex. In addition, get vaccinated against HPV. While the vaccine is normally given to younger boys and girls, people up to age 26 are eligible to receive it.

Other preventive steps include quitting smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and maintaining an appropriate weight. There’s nothing you can do if you’ve got a family history of cervical cancer, you can’t change your genes, but living a healthy lifestyle is a benefit to your cervical health and your overall health. Think about it.

Humbled by HPV

July 10th, 2017

Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto.comHuman papilloma virus, or HPV, is a bad dude, and actually quite common. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 79 million Americans currently infected with HPV. That adds up to about four in ten American adults currently infected, and about 14 million new infections occurring each year.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) explains that HPV is actually a family of more than 200 related viruses. More than 40 types of HPV can be easily spread through direct sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex.

Genital HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It’s been referred to as the “common cold” of sexually transmitted infections.

The NCI adds that nearly all sexually active men and women get HPV at some point. They estimate more than 90 percent of sexually active men and 80 percent of sexually active women will be infected with at least one type of HPV during their lifetimes.

In the sexually transmitted HPV group are viruses that cause warts on the skin on or near the genitals of the infected person. These are low risk for causing more serious disorders such as cancer. Other types of HPV viruses are high risk for leading to cancer.

In most cases, the immune system can battle the viruses and flush them from the body without causing any problems. These viruses occur without symptoms and go away within one to two years. However, some can hang on for many years, and if it’s a high-risk virus, it could progress to cancer.

The low-risk types of HPV can cause the genital warts, which often appear as a small bump or group of bumps that your doctor can diagnose on sight. The high-risk types of HPV can lead to cancer in areas such as the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus and back of the throat. Routine screening is needed to detect these cancers in their early, most treatable stages.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine against HPV, and it’s making a difference. Since it’s introduction in 2006, there has been a significant reduction of genital HPV in teenage girls and young women. In the first group, HPV infection has dropped 60 percent, and in the second group, it dropped 34 percent. This has decreased the risk of cervical cancer considerably.

The target for the HPV vaccine is young girls and boys. The current recommendation is for all children aged 11 or 12 to receive the two-dose vaccine. The idea is to give the vaccine before these children become sexually active and more likely to be infected by and spread the virus.

Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and females through age 26 if they were not vaccinated when they were younger. Vaccination is also recommended for people with compromised immune systems through age 26.

Many primary care doctors don’t include the HPV vaccine as part of a child’s regular vaccination schedule, so many American children don’t get it. According to Electra Paskett, a cancer control researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, “The vaccine has the potential to prevent 30,000 cases of cancer each year and is woefully underused.”

There are other steps you can take to help protect yourself against HPV infection. They include using condoms correctly every time you have sex and getting your routine cancer screenings as recommended by your doctor.

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