British researchers hope to enroll up to 20 women to test a vaccine that may help prevent Clinical Trial Will Investigate Possible Vaccine for Cervical Cancer (dateline December 5, 2001) | Cervical Cancer News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Clinical Trial Will Investigate Possible Vaccine for Cervical Cancer (dateline December 5, 2001)

British researchers hope to enroll up to 20 women to test a vaccine that may help prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine is actually a modified version of the vaccine used to prevent smallpox, a disease that was virtually eradicated from the world in the 1970s. The cervical cancer vaccine will target cells from a sexually transmitted disease called the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer in some women. While the research is still in preliminary stages, it is the first time scientists will examine the effect of a vaccine in the cervix.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that nearly 380,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide each year. The number of cases and number of deaths from cervical cancer are higher in less developed countries where routine screening is not widespread. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease; certain strains of HPV increase the risk of cervical cancer.

Dr. Alison Fiander, Dr. Amanda Tristram, and their colleagues have developed a modified form of the smallpox vaccine and will test up to 20 women to determine whether the vaccine is able to generate an immune system response against cervical cells infected with HPV. Two women in Wales have already enrolled in the study after they tested positive for pre-cancerous cervical cells.

"It’s crucial that the immune response can find its way from the bloodstream to the affected cells in the cervix, where it is needed," said Dr. Stephen Man of the University of Wales in a Cancer Research Campaign press release. Dr. Man will analyze the women’s blood samples after they have received the cervical cancer vaccine.

According to the Cancer Research Campaign, when HPV infects cervical cells, it produces molecules that can be identified by the body’s immune system. These molecules were the basis for the newly developed vaccine called TA-HPV. Researchers hope that the vaccine will cause the immune system to launch an attack against cells that contain the HPV molecules, which are located in the cervix.

Though the vaccine will be tested on women who are found to have pre-cancerous cervical cells, the Cancer Research Campaign says that if the vaccine is successful, it will most likely be used on women with advanced cervical cancer. With advanced cervical cancer, cancerous cells have spread out of the cervix to affect other areas of the body. The chances of surviving advanced cervical cancer are low, and presently, most treatment options focus on relieving symptoms and extending survival time.

The incidence of cervical cancer has decreased dramatically in developed countries with the widespread use of the Pap smear. This screening tool can help physicians detect both pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix, and as with other cancers, the earlier cervical cancer is detected, the higher the chances of successful treatment and survival.

To help detect cervical cancer early, the American Cancer Society recommends that all women begin receiving yearly Pap smears and pelvic examinations at age 18 or when they become sexually active, whichever occurs earlier. Some physicians will not perform a Pap smear each year if a woman has had three negative Pap smears in the course of three years. However, a yearly pelvic exam should be continued even if Pap smears are not given each year.

While the experimental cervical cancer vaccine targets HPV cells, most strains of HPV do not cause cervical cancer. It is estimated that 40 million Americans have HPV. The majority of the estimated 80 different HPV strains are harmless; however, a few of the strains can increase the risk of cervical cancer in some women. HPV testing is available for women with abnormal Pap smear results.

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