January 30th, 2004

p53

Rant: Cancer prevention

I was at a cancer conference the other week. One of the talks (by the überboss himself, as it happens) was about the developments we can expect to see in cancer medicine in the next few years. One of the things he was getting excited about was a vaccine against HPV, which is currently at quite an advanced stage of development.

HPV is the virus which causes cervical cancer. (No, I'm not cutting for TMI.) The virus is sexually transmitted; a clear majority of sexually active people carry the virus, although it doesn't always cause cancer. But it does cause cancer in about 3000 women per year in the UK; most of them are between the ages of 30 and 60. It's treatable if caught in the very early stages (that's why there are widespread screening programmes by means of the cervical smear test), but in the advanced stages it's incurable. The virus can also cause fertility problems, and genital warts in both sexes.

A vaccine is within reach. There's a good chance that in a few years' time, a routine injection at the start of secondary school could be saving thousands of women's lives, and preventing huge amounts of suffering. That's a pretty significant medical breakthrough, and all the evidence so far is looking positive.

But this vaccine has been blocked at every stage, the initial research, the clinical testing, and now the larger scale testing preceding setting up a national vaccination programme. Why? Because some busybodies are offended by the idea of vaccinating young teenaged girls against a sexually transmitted disease. Erosion of family values! Green light for promiscuity! Corrupting the innocent!

Well, fuck you, lobbyists. I hope you are haunted for the rest of your life by all the women who die unnecessarily and in horrible pain as a result of your stupidity. I hope that your smug self-righteousness gives you exactly no comfort when you come face to face with people who have lost friends, wives, mothers and daughters because you are a bunch of fucking prudes. I don't hope that you end up among the unfortunate people who get cervical cancer, though, because that I wouldn't wish on anybody.

How can anyone seriously believe that people dying of cancer is preferable to providing decent sex education and contraception and making the most of major medical breakthroughs like this one? Which, incidentally, are the results of years of work costing huge amounts of money. And it's not a few weirdos who think like this, it's people who have a significant influence on funding policy and laws which determine which experiments and trials are allowed to go ahead. Ugh!

Sorry to rant, people. I'd sort of like other people to get angry about this kind of idiocy, but more importantly, I want all my friends to look after yourselves. Eat a sensible diet (including plenty of fruit and veg), do a reasonable amount of exercise, cut down on smoking as much as possible, be responsible about sex, that kind of thing. Oh, and if you're female, keep up to date with your smear tests.

That's all.
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