Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Los Angeles Times notes another study showing that Gardasil works in men, too.

Unfortunately, they conclude:
By blocking penile and anal warts, the vaccine can reduce the incidence of the related cancers. But the incidence of both of those cancers is low, so critics of the vaccine argue that the public health benefits are not sufficient to justify the high cost of widespread vaccination for any male group other than, perhaps, homosexuals. Proponents, however, argue that women contract HPV from men and that vaccinating men bolsters herd immunity, thereby protecting women.

Which is fine as far as it goes, with the information provided there, there is a fair question. What's omitted, however, is the evidence that HPV, and perhaps some of the same strains of HPV that are protected against in this vaccine, are involved in even *more* forms of cancer. For example, HPV has been implicated as the second-largest cause of lung cancer in a study that discovered correlations between lung cancer and the incidence of HPV 16 and HPV 18. So we have this virus, and it causes cancer in some bits of tissue in women, and we know that, and we see a certain correlation, and yeah, we see that same correlation in men and women with lung cancer. It may be scientifically accurate to say that we don't know that there's causation there for lung cancer, but you'd have to be a complete moron to think that causation was improbable. HPV 16 is also, according the the WHO, the cause of a variety cancers of the mouth and throat.

While many of these cancers are, too, rarer than cervical cancer, they add up. While everyone should cautiously consider the risks, costs and potential benefits of this as well as any other sort of medical procedure, the weak defense of the potential value of this vaccine in the Los Angeles Times is, I fear, misleading and potentially harmfully so.

When I was growing up, "Still no cure for cancer." was a catch-phrase for the inability of science to provide anything we might want. Here we have not a cure but (in some ways, better) a preventative for cancer, for perhaps a dozen variety of cancers, but we're giving it less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. I'm baffled.