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Tests Support Vaccine to Prevent the Main Cause of Cervical Cancer

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Research scientists have developed an experimental treatment to protect women against cervical cancer. A new study found the treatment kept almost everyone tested safe from infections that lead to the disease. The medical publication Lancet Oncology reported on the study.

Experts say more than two hundred thousand women die from cervical cancer every year. These deaths are most common in developing countries. The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus, or H.P.V. This is a common virus that people can give each other through sexual activity.

H.P.V. usually is harmless and disappears in healthy women. But, if it remains in the body, the virus greatly increases the chances of cervical cancer.

The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. It is the opening at the end of the uterus. H.P.V. infections are responsible for genital warts. These growths on reproductive organs can lead to cervical cancer.

Cervical cancers develop slowly, usually over a period of ten or twenty years. There are tests that can find the disease early enough to save a woman’s life. A common test is called a Pap smear. Laboratory workers examine cells under a microscope.

Luisa Villa of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Brazil organized the new study. It involved five hundred fifty-two women from Brazil, Europe and the United States. About half of them were given repeated injections of the treatment, or vaccine. The other half received a harmless substance, or placebo. Researchers observed the two groups for three years. During that period, the women received repeated Pap smears. H.P.V. tests also were performed.

The researchers say the vaccine was effective in preventing infection from four forms of H.P.V. Doctor Villa and her team found the vaccine was ninety percent effective in preventing the majority of viral infections. They also say it was one hundred percent effective in preventing genital warts and cervical lesions, which can lead to cancer.

More studies will be done to test the effectiveness of the vaccine. One drug-maker, Merck, is expected to ask the United States Food and Drug Administration to approve the vaccine later this year. If approved, it may be offered as early as next year.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Steve Ember.