Cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix. The most common form of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma which accounts for about 80% of cases. Adenocarcinoma is less common and more difficult to detect because it starts higher in the cervix. In Australia, in 2014, there were 898 new cases of cervical cancer, and in 2016 there were 259 deaths caused by cervical cancer, and the death rate has halved since the beginning of the Cervical Cancer Screening Program began in 1991. The death rate within 5 years from diagnosis for cervical cancer is 27%1.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by persistent infection with some high-risk types of the human papilloma virus (HPV); this is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer. The other main risk factor is smoking. 80% of women will become infected with genital HPV at some time in their lives, but it is only a few types of HPV that result in cervical cancer1.
A vaccine called Gardasil-9 was developed by Professor Ian Frazer and his team at the University of Queensland. It protects people against nine HPV types which cause around 90% of cervical cancers in women (and most other HPV-related cancers in women), 95% of all HPV-related cancers in men (anal, penile and throat cancers), and 90% of genital warts2.
The Gardasil-9 vaccine has been so successful that it has led to a dramatic decline in HPV infection in women up to 24 years of age from 24% to 1% in the last decade. It is expected that the number of new cases each year would drop from about a thousand to just a few. This is, of course, dependent on there being high coverage, and Australia is in the lead here because of the school-based free vaccine program. This could lead to the effective elimination of cervical cancer in Australia. To contemplate the eradication of a cancer that kills over 250 women annually, is wonderful. One can only hope this comes to fruition.
What are we to make of a person like Barnaby Joyce who opposed the free provision of this vaccine. Joyce insisted MPs should be allowed to debate its ‘social implications’ and that the decision should not be left to the Therapeutic Goods Administration because “they will talk about the therapeutic aspects – they are not there to talk about the psychological implications or the social implications”. Believe it or not, Joyce actually said “There might be an overwhelming backlash from people saying ‘Don’t you dare put something out there that gives my 12-year-old daughter a licence to be promiscuous’”4. Of course, this happened before Barnaby was caught with his trousers down around his own promiscuous ankles5.
This hypocrisy of Joyce is well known5, but his stupidity in arguing against Gardasil-9 on the basis of possible rampant promiscuity among 12-year-olds pales into insignificance when compared to that of the anti-vaccination morons. They tried to claim that HPV didn’t cause cervical cancer (it does)6, that the Gardasil-9 vaccine was banned in Japan (it wasn’t)7, that it had been proven to have caused the deaths of 32 women (it hasn’t), and that Gardasil-9 doesn’t work (it does)8.
It is a shame there isn’t a vaccination against stupidity.