Updated Sat, Aug 4, 2012 1:40 pm
Updated Sat, Aug 4, 2012 1:40 pm
Health experts say girls and young women are not protecting themselves against cervical cancer as much as they should, and the problem is worse in Appalachia Ohio.
The concern is with HPV: Human Papilloma Virus.
Researchers at Ohio State University are working to better understand cancer in regions of Ohio and West Virginia.
Here's what they know: there's a vaccine that can protect against some types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
Here's what they don't know: if stress has an effect on how the body's immune system responds to this vaccine.
The researchers are doing a study that they hope will provide some answers and they're providing free vaccine to young women who participate.
"Not to be confused with HIV, so we're talking about HPV: Human Papilloma Virus," said Ruffin.
Mack Ruffin of the University of Michigan is the principal investigator of the study.
"It is sexually transmitted, it's a little confusing because there's a hundred different types of HPV, so your common warts that you get on your fingers and toes, those come from Human Papilloma Viruses. But we're talking about the ones that cause sexually transmitted infections in gential areas, so HPV when we talk about the vaccine is those types. A lot of people get exposed. Two-thirds of people in their sexual lifetimes, so from the time they start having sex with someone else, to the time you stop, two-thirds of people will get infected with HPV," said Ruffin. "Most people don't have any consequence from it, but there are a few people who do wind up getting cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, rectal cancer or genital warts. And these can be prevented. The cancers, the cervical cancer, the vulvar cancer, the vaginal cancer and the rectal cancer and the genital warts can be prevented with this new vaccine, which has been approved and available for several years now."
Jane Balbo wants women to know about this option for getting the vaccine for free.
She's a doctor at the health clinic at Ohio University.
"When I have patients who come in for pap smears, and we go over the results if they have an abnormal, we talk about how the abnormalities are caused by HPV and that it's a virus. A lot of them are not aware that it's sexually transmitted, that they can pass it to future partners or how they got it from their partners so there's some misinformation or just outright not knowing that it is abnormal paps, which is the precursor often to cervical cancer, or can be the precursor to cervical cancer, is from a sexually transmitted virus," says Balbo.
The OU health facility is one of the participating clinics.
Ruffin says women who participate in the study will go to a clinic four times over a one year period, provide blood and cervical samples and answer questions.
"We're providing, through this study, you get a free pap smear, you get the three shots and you another pap smear a year later, plus we collect a lot of other information. You're also donating some blood, so we're trying to understand how Appalachian women respond to the vaccine. This is an approved vaccine, I use it in my practice, Jane uses it in her practice, it's been out since 2006, there have already been 20 million doses given in this country. So we know what the safety profile is, this is not a study where you get a placebo or blind, everybody gets the vaccine, everybody gets a pap smear, everybody answers the questions," said Ruffin. "We're trying to understand what's unique about Appalachian women and how they respond to the vaccine, because we know that Appalachia still has higher rates of cervical cancer, has higher rates of human papilloma virus, we want to know why and this is one of the few studies, maybe the only study in Appalachian population of young women trying to understand what's unique about this area and this county and this population."
In addition to receiving the vaccine at no charge, the women will get a $10 gift card at each clinic visit.
"We started it last fall. We need 432 women and we have a hard time reaching the population to get them information, to understand that we're recruiting, the sites are in their communities and we actually pay for their time and efforts to get to the site. You don't have to come to Columbus, you don't have to come to Michigan, it's right in the Appalachian areas. It's funded through the National Institute of Health, particularly the National Cancer Institute," said Ruffin.
The vaccines were donated by Merck, the company that manufactures it, but Merck is not paying for study.
Ruffin says study volunteers will be followed for a year and then the research team will do an analysis, which he hopes can be completed within a year.
"We look at the antibody level change from their first visit to their last visit and look at what goes into predicting that response, so your age, your smoking status, your stress level, your sleep patterns, your coping mechanisms and a number of other factors, trying to understand, does everybody respond the same or are there certain features of people who don't respond well," said Ruffin.
Ruffin says Merck will also share antibody data from its trials to show the vaccine works, and researchers can compare the data sets to find anything unique about the Appalachian population.
If you want to participate or have questions, call the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State at 1-877-304-2273 and choose option two.