The smear and the vaccine against human papillomaviruses prevent uterine cancer. Back on the advantages, disadvantages and especially the effectiveness of these methods.
First of all, cancer of the cervix is caused by viruses, the papillomaviruses, which are extremely widespread and most often benign. These papillomaviruses are transmitted sexually but also by simple contact with the skin.
Papillomavirus and cancer risks
For a young girl who has had sexual intercourse, the risk of being infected with a papillomavirus is 30% to 50%, but 90% of these infections will heal spontaneously in the following two years. Until now, cancer of the cervix was prevented by a smear test (to be carried out at the gynecologist’s every two or three years between 25 and 65 years old) but the marketing of two vaccines reimbursed by security social drug, Gardasil and Cervarix, raises many questions. Let’s try to understand why.
Vaccination is not compulsory
Vaccination can prevent, but only partially, infection with strains likely to induce cervical lesions. This vaccination will reduce, three years later, by 0.8% the risk of the appearance of a lesion of the cervix which in the absence of vaccination is 2.8%, but will not exempt this young woman from carrying out one smear every three years after two negative smears one year apart. While vaccines can prevent ideally 70% of cancers linked to the strains present in them, they do not protect against all papillomaviruses. Moreover, their side effects are still unknown in the long term. Finally, if the person has already had several sexual relations, he may already be infected with papillomaviruses and in this case, vaccination is of little use. Precancerous lesions of the cervix take between 5 and 12 years to appear after contact with the virus.
The importance of the smear
The smear is a simple examination which consists of rubbing the cervix and examining the cells collected under the microscope to look for, not the cancer, but any cellular abnormalities which are sometimes precancerous. Without danger and without side effects, Pap smear screening would prevent the appearance of the majority of cases and deaths due to cancer of the cervix. In conclusion, if the vaccine is a method of prevention, it does not replace smear screening.