There are claims of more than 100 types of HPV, identified by number, though only 70 have been described so far - sure, that sounds confusing but if people can believe in 11 dimensional string theory with a straight face, over 30% of HPV viruses existing because of indirect observation are no problem. Some HPV viruses, like the well-known 16 and 18 linked to cervical cancer in females, are transmitted sexually; not just through sexual intercourse, but through any skin-to-skin contact involving the mouth, vagina, penis, anus - all the happy parts in sex.
HPV 16 and HPV 18 have been implicated as the cause of most cases of cervical cancer in the U.S. and there have also been efforts to implicate HPV in the development of some cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, and perineum (the area between the genitals and anus) - and maybe even throats. Researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) in Buffalo, New York, say this is reason to begin a national discussion about the need to vaccinate women, young girls and young men against HPV 16. Cha-ching for Merck.
Merck can sweat the ongoing Vioxx financial disaster a little less if RPCI press releases with sentences like "growing evidence that certain cancers of the head and neck are strongly linked to HPV" continue to get produced. That sentence scientifically means nothing but it reads like endorsing Merck will mean a reduction in medical bills - and even deaths. There's no data for that at all.
In 2006, the FDA approved the use of Gardasil against HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18, for females between the ages of 9 and 26 to help prevent cancer (cervix, vulva, and vagina) as well as genital warts but the FDA has not yet approved the vaccine for males - a decision is expected in in a few weeks, which is perfect timing for researchers to state that a vaccine for males would be terrific.
Enter Saurin Popat, MD, FRCSC, FACS, Attending Surgeon in Head&Neck and Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at RPCI:
“The side effects of the vaccine are so small(1), and the potential benefits are great.” He notes that patients with throat cancer “have to undergo major treatment lasting several months, with an additional four to six months of recovery. Their ability to speak and swallow is affected. Generally, they do very well; however, it is a long, challenging road.”
So he tells us that HPV vaccine is great and throat cancer is bad - still no link between them. HPV is not in the same league as smallpox or polio.
And aside from the somewhat not small list in note 1 below, are the side effects well known? A Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act analysis of the FDA’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (yes, the Freedom of Information Act was needed) in June, 2008 showed 3,461 complaints of adverse reactions to the Gardasil vaccine and as many as eight deaths attributable to Gardasil. In some instances, blood clots were reported to have occurred after the administration of Gardasil. Other side effects included paralysis, Bells Palsy, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and seizures, they say.
Yikes. Cervical cancer is among the 'best' cancers anyone can get in its treatability. 8 deaths is a small number but it has to be factored in.
Thom Loree, MD, Chair of RPCI’s Department of Head & Neck Surgery, gets a little bit crazier about his endorsement of Gardasil. He says the because RPCI has seen a threefold increase in the number of throat cancers they treat(2) and that “with increased vaccination against HPV, you’ll see a decrease in cervical cancer and in throat cancers.”
He says if everyone stopped smoking and using tobacco in any form, and also got vaccinated against HPV, “we could eliminate head and neck cancers, and I’d be out of business.”
That's right, he said endorsing Merck and banning tobacco companies would eliminate neck cancer. Pretty bold.
I am all for large-scale public health experiments - okay, I am actually not - but there are limits and some of them are simple finance. The American Cancer Society estimates 35,310 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancer each year - 25,310 of those are men. 7,590 people, 5,210 of those being men, will die of those cancers.
Smoking, chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol use are considered the leading causes of cancers of the head and neck. Not HPV. If we're going to spend $12,000,000,000 on a vaccine we should at least know how many lives it can actually save. If you're one of those people who say "If we save even one life ..." (assuming not much of the $12 billion is your hard earned money) let's lower the speed limit to 5 MPH and use that money to offset the business losses. 37,313 people died in car accidents last year, according to the NHTSA.
(1) The short list of reported side effects are:
Pain in the area of the injection, swelling in the area of the injection, redness in the area of the injection, fever, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, toothache, general ill feeling, joint pain, insomnia, stuffy nose, very high fever, allergic reactions including difficulty breathing, wheezing, unusual skin rash, itching, and hives, headaches, Gastroenteritis, Appendicitis, Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), asthma or other bronchospasms.
(2) If you like those sorts of correlations in your science and health data, take note; in the 19th century the only real treatment for tuberculosis was a dry climate. So tourist bureaus of other states could say theirs was safer because more people died from tuberculosis in Colorado than any other state. So don't go to RPCI unless you want to catch throat cancer.