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1 year ago
Why HPV Vaccines May Not Be As Effective As We Thought

Disheartening news on the HPV vaccine front: The vaccines currently available on the market may be less effective at preventing HPV for African-American women than they are for white women, according to new research presented yesterday at the 12th annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research.

For the study, researchers from Duke University School of Medicine looked at 572 adult women with abnormal Pap smears who agreed to come in for a follow-up evaluation. After analyzing cervical cells from each of the participants, researchers discovered that African-American women tend to get different subtypes of HPV than white women do. Why this matters? HPV 16 and HPV 18, the two subtypes of HPV currently prevented by vaccines, are half as likely to be found in African-American women as they are in white women—which makes the vaccines way less effective for them. HPV 58, however, was more than twice as common in African Americans, as was HPV 35.

Previous research indicates that HPV 16 and HPV 18 may be responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancers—which is why vaccines were created to target them—but this new study suggests that they might not be the only HPV subtypes we need to worry about. "When I went back and looked at the analysis that came up with the HPV 16 and 18 [as the primary causes of cervical cancer], the majority of participants were not women of African-American descent," says senior study author Cathrine Hoyo, Ph.D., division chief of epidemiology in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine. Scary side note: HPV 16 and HPV 18 are also the subtypes most commonly screened for during Pap smears, which may help explain why there's a higher incidence of African Americans dying from cervical cancer, says Hoyo.

Granted, many women have multiple subtypes of HPV (there are more than 40), and researchers can't be sure which ones are actually responsible for cervical cancer until more research is conducted, says Hoyo.

The good news? A new vaccine is in the works that would target more subtypes of HPV, including some that are more prevalent in African-American women. In the meantime, getting vaccinated can still significantly decrease your odds of getting cervical cancer, even if you're not white (36 percent of African-American women in Hoyo's study had HPV 16 or 18, so it's not like it was non-existant in that group). To protect yourself even more, make sure to wear a condom whenever you're with a new or untested partner—regardless of your ethnicity and whether or not you've been vaccinated.

 

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