Skin cancer vaccine is in the works

I thought Hugh Jackman was my favorite Australian import, but after hearing that Australian scientist Ian Frazer is developing a skin cancer vaccine, Hugh might come in second. It turns out Frazer is the same person who developed the human papillomavirus vaccine, which is administered under the name Gardasil in the United States. Interestingly, Gardasil and the potential skin cancer vaccine have many points in common.

For one thing, the same virus that causes cervical cancer and genital warts — papillomavirus — leads to squamous cell skin cancer. Squamous cells, if left untreated, lead to deadly meloanoma. Another similarity is this: Like Gardasil, which doesn’t protect against all strains of HPV, the skin cancer vaccine won’t guard against all types of skin cancers. Melanoma, unfortunately, will not be averted by the vaccine.

The vaccine might not be perfect, but it’s still an enormous step in the right direction for the health industry. Those who are susceptible to skin cancer, such as people with Skin Type I or who have a family history of skin cancer, will have added protection. Skin cancer runs in both sides of my family. My dad is constantly getting skin cancers burned off or cut out, and my grandmother is a melanoma survivor. I would be first in line for such a vaccine.

Everyone, however, would still need to take proper precautions when it comes to the sun. Just because a vaccine exists doesn’t mean we should all bake in tanning beds without fear of skin damage. Sorry, guys, but suncreen and protective clothing are still musts. On the bright side (or not so bright, depending on how you look at it), the vaccine could be out in as few as five years! Until then, I’ll keep you updated.

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~ by Stephanie Dunn on November 16, 2008.

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