The first is that researchers have found a genetic component that makes people more or less susceptible to succumbing to HPV. This is important for the future trend of customized healthcare. Knowing that you are genetically likely to have your HPV infection turn into cancer if you get HPV would allow doctors to tailor your screening schedule to increase the chances that they'll catch it early, whereas people who have an increased genetic ability to fight the HPV infection so that it passes through the system harmlessly can rely on the once-a-year screening.
Cancer has always been a mystery to us. Even when we know that certain strains are caused by viruses, or tobacco smoke, or whatever, we are still struggling to answer the question "why did this person get cancer and that person didn't?" We know that at least 80% of women will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives, but the percentage of those women who actually get cervical cancer is small. Unfortunately, even though it's small, it's still a crap shoot for which ones are which, so even though it's statistically small, it's still terrifying to those who can do nothing but wait to find out which camp they fall into. Successful treatment of cervical cancer lowers the death toll even more due to regular pap smears, but why do some people get cancer from their cancer-causing strain of HPV and others pass the virus through their system? According to this article, some women have certain gene variations that makes their bodies better able to mount an immune response to an HPV infection. Knowing which of us has this ability and which of us don't can significantly improve the chances of those who don't.
Now, once you have HPV, there is a screening process to let us know that we have HPV, hopefully before it turns into full-blown cancer. The FDA has just approved a new DNA test for HPV. For a long time, the Pap smear was all the defense we had. I don't know off the top of my head when we knew that cervical cancer was caused by HPV, but since HPV was so easy to catch, the medical community just assumed that, as women, we would eventually get it, so they just screened us for cancer as part of a regular maintenance checkup. The Pap smear detected "abnormal" cells, which could range from just random wierdness in cells on the cervix to cancerous lesions, and everything in between. The goal was to detect the abnormalities that would eventually turn into cancer before they turned into cancer. And this process was, and is, pretty good. Women in first world countries who get regular pap smears have a massively significantly higher chance of surviving cervical cancer than women in third world countries who do not get screened.
But, eventually, someone came up with a test to find out if those abnormal cells were, in fact, caused by HPV, as opposed to just general cell wierdness, and therefore likely to turn into cancer if untreated. It is recommended that women over 30 get this test no matter what, but it has been my personal experience that doctors don't give the test unless you have any kind of abnormal results for your pap smear, but that they will automatically do the test when you get abnormal results. We call this a DNA test, and it is, but it really can only tell us 1) do we have an HPV infection (if the answer is no, we assume it's something else) and 2) is our strain of HPV "high risk" or "low risk". It does not tell us which strain of HPV we have, specifically.
But now, the FDA has approved a test that will identify, specifically, if your high-risk strain of HPV is 16 or 18, the two strains that are responsible for 70% of cancer cases and the two high-risk strains that are found in Gardasil, the only FDA approved vaccine (Gardasil does have competitors that are approved in other countries, but not here).
The company who manufactures this test say that it should be arriving in doctor's offices within the next 3 months. The idea for this test is, like the genetic discovery, to customize our healthcare. If we know for sure that we have one of these strains of HPV, even if we have not begun showing cellular breakdown, our doctors can recommend more frequent pap smears to keep an eye on the infection, thereby catching it even sooner than before, and it will also tell us if our body has been able to clear the strain entirely for those who test positive at first but test negative later.
And the final piece of news is about preventing an HPV infection all together. Gardasil protects against 16 and 18, the strains responsible for 70% of cases of cervical cancer, and against 6 and 11, the strains responsible for 90% of the cases of warts. A new vaccine, currently called V503, protects against all 4 of those, plus 5 more cancer-causing strains. For those who had not learned how the vaccine actually works, this article explains very simply and succinctly. The vaccine contains proteins that form a hollow sphere that resembles an HPV virus, but doesn't actually contain the virus itself, so you will not get HPV from this vaccine. But because it *looks* like HPV, it forces our immune systems to create antibodies against HPV because our bodies *think* they're being attacked by HPV. That way, by the time a real HPV virus comes in contact with our immune system, we already have antibodies in our system to repell the virus.
This new vaccine is currently undergoing clinical trials, which means that it won't be available on the public market for a few years. Like Gardasil, it will be initially targeted at women ages 9-26 because the the most HPV infections occur in women ages 15-25. If you are a healthy, non-pregnant female age 16 to 26, with a history of no abnormal pap smears, you are eligible to participate in the study and the article gives a phone number to call for more information. The study will give women one of two shots. You will either get Gardasil or you will get this new vaccine. Either way, you will get vaccinated against HPV (and for free, I might add). It requires office visits every few months for 7-months up to 3.5 years that will include pelvic exams and HPV screenings. If I were within the eligible age range, I'd *so* sign up for this!