This is a response I posted to an article in the Huffington Post by Mehmet Oz in which he drums up hysteria about HPV infection.
Unlike here in the US, where thanks to the pap and early surgical intervention cervical cancer is a relatively minor killer of women– about 4,000 deaths yearly compared to about 40,000 from breast cancer, in the developing world cervical cancer is a major killer of women. These are countries where women do not get pap smears, and even when they do, often there aren’t enough pathologists to read the slides or medically trained staff to perform important interventions. Prevention of HPV infection with HPV vaccines in these settings is our best bet for stopping these horrible deaths of women in their prime of life. Thankfully the HPV vaccines will make their impact where the suffering is greatest.
Are the HPV vaccines a good thing for the health of women in this country? Sure. Are they necessary? No. We have done an excellent job of reducing cervical cancer mortality without the benefit of the vaccines. If we can reduce it further, great. However, HPV infection does not warrant this high level of attention. These vaccines have gotten dragged into the general anxiety about vaccines, with an added kick because they are associated with sexual behavior. This stuff is complicated, but very little of it really matters for us the way it matters for people less fortunate. As a physician I find it so embarrassing when doctors in the media feed off and promote hysteria. Whom are they really trying to benefit? I think we all know the answer to that.