Study suggests GSK's Cervarix can prevent throat cancer

The public health push to vaccinate both boys and girls against human papillomavirus (HPV) has been hindered by a lack of studies showing the jabs prevent forms of cancer other than cervical. Now this is changing, with data on throat cancer emerging a week after an anal disease study.

While last week's British research into anal cancer made the case for vaccinating gay men with Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil or GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Cervarix, the latest study has implications for throat cancer in heterosexual men. The need to protect this group against HPV has been shown by soaring incidence of sexually transmitted virus-related oropharyngeal cancers. In the 1980s, 16% of these cancers were caused by sexually transmitted viruses. The figure is now up to 70%, The New York Times reports.

A National Cancer Institute-backed study published in PLOS ONE suggests that Cervarix can prevent some of these throat cancer cases. The study tested Cervarix against a control vaccine in 5,840 women in Costa Rica. Researchers recruited 18- to 25-year-old women who were sexually active when the trial began. Four years after vaccination, HPV 16 or 18 was found in the throat of one of the women who received Cervarix. Fifteen women from the control group were infected.

The study has some flaws--such as only enrolling women and only taking one oral sample--but it is strong enough to add solid evidence to the belief that HPV vaccines can prevent throat cancer. Dr. Marshall Posner, Mount Sinai's head and neck cancer medical director, told The New York Times: "This is a very nice paper. We expected this--that's why we want everyone to vaccinate both boys and girls. But there's been no proof." Posner was not involved with the study.

- check out the NYT article
- read the PLoS ONE paper