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Friday September 29, 2000

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Cancer Center researching HPV vaccine

By Mindy Jones

Arizona Daily Wildcat

3-year study looking for UA students to determine effectiveness of a preventative shot

Arizona Cancer Center researchers are looking into the effectiveness of a new vaccine against the development of the Human Papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease.

The three-year study is being conducted on healthy women between the ages of 18 and 23 who are willing to take birth control if they become sexually active.

Adrienne Karecki, study coordinator for the double-blind experiment, said that some of the participants will receive the man-made particle while others will receive a generic placebo.

"We are currently enrolling people without HPV," Karecki said. "They will get two shots of the vaccine and one booster over the next three years."

Karecki added that the participants will also receive six gynecological exams, including blood work, availability of contraception and Pap smears.

Roberta Kline, the registered nurse and family nurse practitioner who will conduct all of the gynecological exams, said the sexually transmitted disease may not always be accompanied by visual symptoms.

"Genital warts is the only visual symptom a woman may experience after contracting HPV," Kline said. "However, the disease often has a very long latent period and may not show physical signs for years."

Although HPV is the number-one STD on college campuses including the University of Arizona, a surprising amount of students do not know what it is, Karecki said.

In order to solicit a wide range of students, the coordinators placed advertisements in local newspapers, visited UA sorority houses and passed out information in freshman general education classes.

"The age range selected is such a typically high sexually active period," Karecki said. "It is very important that women become educated about the consequences of unprotected intercourse."

Laurie Young, director of communication and outreach at the Arizona Cancer Center, agrees with the importance of educating women about HPV.

"This is a real problem," Young said. "Certainly, any research that could prevent this problem is necessary and useful."

HPV has not been identified by the American Cancer Association to be a direct cause of cervical cancer. However, it is very closely related, Young said.

"If caught early enough, cervical cancer can be treated effectively," she added.

The Arizona Cancer Center reports that 12,800 new cases of cervical cancer have surfaced in the United States within the last year.

Young attributes the steady decline in U.S. reported cases to the number of people taking advantage of Pap smears.

"It is recommended that any woman who is sexually active or over the age of 18 has a Pap smear annually," Young said. "After three consecutive clean tests, a woman can decrease the frequency of her Pap smears after consulting her doctor."

To date, this study is proposing the only preventative medicine for HPV, Kline said.

"We used to say there was no prevention because condoms don't always cover the right areas," Kline said. "If approved, this vaccine would be given to women before they became sexually active."