The HPV vaccine has only been around since 2006, but it's already dramatically crushed the rate of the infection in teenage girls — and it's getting more magical by the second. A study released Thursday reveals that at least one of the two models of the vaccine also protects against throat cancers caused by oral sex.
Don't pretend you're not thinking about Michael Douglas.
A little background: there are two kinds of HPV vaccine: Gardasil and Cervatrix. Though both have been proven to slash rates of the HPV infection —which is common and can lead to cervical cancer — only a third of American teenage girls have been vaccinated. (The vaccination's potency rate is less dramatic after you've had sexual partners, which is why it's generally recommended for teenage girls.)
Now that the National Cancer Institute's study has proven Cervatrix is also useful for people without a cervix, it's possible that the vaccine will also be recommended for teenage boys. Researchers are debating marketing Cervatrix towards an older age group as well, but because the vaccine only protects against sexually transmitted viruses in the throat and cervix, and you have to be virus-free for it to work effectively.
The human papillomavirus has, until now, been a tricky beast; it causes 70 percent of throat cancers. (Let's take a moment to remember Michael Douglas again, who cheerily told a Guardian reporter that his cancer had come from giving oral sex.) Throat cancer rates have soared in middle-aged men over the last few decades, and men are twice as likely to get it as women. Cervatrix, according to the study, is 93 percent effective against the strains of HPV virus that cause the cancer.
Only one of the 5,840 women who participated in the study and had received the vaccine had traces of the infection in her throat four years later. The rest were totally clean. “We were surprised at how big the effect was,” said Dr. Rolando Herrero, the study's lead researcher. “It’s a very powerful vaccine.”