ANN ARBOR, Michigan – Once someone is infected with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, there's been absolutely nothing that cleared the infection.
For Sandy LaLonde, cancer was the last thing she was thinking about in her early 30's until months of irregular periods convinced her to see her doctor for testing.
"She said we have bad news. Your high-risk HPV test came back positive and we're pretty sure you have cervical cancer."
The cancer was Stage Two-A and had spread.
Sandy needed eight rounds of chemo and 25 rounds of external radiation to treat it.
CANCERS: High-risk HPV is more likely to cause cancer. For most people, the immune system is able to get rid of this type of infection but some people develop a lasting infection. Over many years, the infection transforms normal cells into precancerous lesions or cancer. HPV infection causes nearly all cervical cancers.
Dr. Diane Harper is studying a new therapy that she hopes will wipe out cervical cancer by eliminating the HPV virus that can cause it.
"Unlike chlamydia or gonorrhea where you can take an antibiotic and get cured, we don't have anything that will get rid of HPV," explained Dr. Harper, Senior Associate Director at the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research and a University of Michigan professor of Family Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Researchers enrolled 200-women with pre-cancerous cervical lesions and gave them three injections one week apart. The therapy was a protein that triggered an immune response.
"It activates the immune system to go in and find the cells that are infected with HPV or the cells that have started to change because of HPV and attack them," said Dr. Harper.
At the end of six months between 25% and 33% of the participants were cleared of lesions and HPV.
Additional trials are needed before this new vaccine could be considered by the FDA for approval.
Sandy is impressed.
"I think having the ability to clear the body of HPV is amazing because just because they don't have cancer from it doesn't mean they don't have a whole host of other complications."
Dr. Harper says it's important to note that the vaccine researchers are testing is different from Gardasil, the vaccine given to preteens to prevent HPV. The vaccine that is being tested clears tissue that already has HPV.
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