Harald zur Hausen studied viruses and discovered that certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, can cause cervical cancer, in Europe during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Zur Hausen spent his research career identifying the viruses that cause diseases, particularly cancer-causing viruses (oncoviruses). He primarily focused on HPV and cervical cancer. Zur Hausen hypothesized that HPV was cancerous and discovered that two strains, HPV 16 and 18, caused cervical cancer. That discovery led to improved diagnosis of cervical cancer and the later development of the HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix. In 2008, zur Hausen won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
On 15 April 1999, physician Gillian Thomas published the editorial “Improved Treatment for Cervical Cancer – Concurrent Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy,” henceforth “Improved Treatment,” in The New England Journal of Medicine. In that editorial, she discusses the potential benefits of combining chemotherapy drugs with radiation to treat women with cervical cancer. At the time, healthcare professionals rarely treated cervical cancer by combining chemotherapy or radiation. Two months prior to Thomas’s publication, the US National Cancer Institute, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, released an announcement advocating for combining chemotherapy with radiation based on clinical trial results. In “Improved Treatment,” Thomas summarized the results of those clinical trials that had led to the announcement and communicated a new way to treat invasive cervical cancers, which persists as of 2019.
In 1930, physician Joseph Colt Bloodgood founded the Amanda Sims Memorial Fund, or the ASMF, a United States cancer awareness organization that focused on spreading information about ways to detect and prevent cervical cancer in women, in Baltimore, Maryland. In partnership with nurse Florence Serpell Deakins Becker, Bloodgood promoted awareness of the early symptoms of cervical cancer among women and advocated for regular pelvic exams. The ASMF partnered with numerous women’s organizations throughout the United States, providing educational information to women of varying backgrounds. Though the ASMF existed for only five years, it was one of the first organizations to directly reach out to women to explain the importance of regular pelvic exams and early detection of cervical cancer, creating a platform for later organizations to continue that mission.
In 2006, the article “HPV in the Etiology of Human Cancer,” hereafter “HPV and Etiology,” by Nubia Muñoz, Xavier Castellsagué, Amy Berrington de González, and Lutz Gissmann, appeared as the first chapter in the twenty-fourth volume of the journal Vaccine. Muñoz and colleagues discuss the role of the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, in uterine cervical cancers. The authors introduce the mechanisms of HPV infection that lead to genital and non-genital cancers, establishing a link between HPV and multiple human cancers. The authors end by mentioning how other factors, such as pregnancy, smoking, and age, can influence HPV progressing into cervical cancer, which can be fatal. In the article, Muñoz and colleagues use meta-analyses of case studies and clinical trials to show which specific types of HPV are linked to cervical and other human cancers and the impacts of cofactors on the development of those cancers.
In 2006, the United States branch of Merck & Co. received FDA approval for Gardasil, a human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine that protects against HPV and the cervical cancer that can come with it. In 1891, George F. Merck founded the US branch of the company to distribute chemicals with high purity for use in research, in New York City, New York, and other areas nearby. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts, regular skin warts, cervical cancer, and other cancers. Since 2016, Gardasil has been the only HPV vaccine in use in the US and over people received 28 million doses in the country between 2014 and 2017, reducing people’s chances of contracting cancer.
From 1977 to 1987, Harald zur Hausen led a team of researchers across several institutions in Germany to investigate whether the human papillomavirus (HPV) caused cervical cancer. Zur Hausen's first experiment tested the hypothesis that HPV caused cervical cancer rather than herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the then accepted cause. His second and third experiments detailed methods to identify two previously unidentified HPV strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, in cervical cancer tumor samples. The experiments showed that HPV 16 and 18 DNA were present in cervical tumor samples. Zur Hausen concluded that HPV, not HSV-2, caused cervical cancer, which enabled researchers to develop preventions, such as the HPV vaccine.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) strains 16 and 18 are the two most common HPV strains that lead to cases of genital cancer. HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted disease, resulting in more than fourteen million cases per year in the United States alone. When left untreated, HPV leads to high risks of cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, and penile cancers. In 1983 and 1984 in Germany, physician Harald zur Hausen found that two HPV strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, caused cervical cancer in women. In the early twenty first century, pharmaceutical companies Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline created HPV vaccines protecting against HPV-16 and HPV-18, which have reduced the number of HPV infections by fifty-six percent in the US. Discovering HPV strains 16 and 18 allowed physicians to test for those cancer-causing cell populations using Pap smears, a diagnostic tool that collects cells from the woman's cervix to identify cancerous cases of HPV infection. By identifying the cancerous strains of HPV-16 and HPV-18 and utilizing preventative measures such as the Pap smear and HPV vaccines, the rates of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers have reduced.
Ian Hector Frazer studied the human immune system and vaccines in Brisbane, Australia, and helped invent and patent the scientific process and technology behind what later became the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US, or CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and can lead to genital warts, as well as cervical, head, mouth, and neck cancers. Frazer and virologist Jian Zhou conducted research in the 1990s to assess why women with HPV had higher rates of precancerous and cancerous cervical cells. Frazer’s research led the pharmaceutical company Merck to produce the Gardasil vaccination series, and GlaxoSmithKline to produce the Cervarix vaccination. Frazer’s research contributed to the development of HPV vaccinations that have been successful in reducing up to seventy percent of cervical cancer cases in women.
Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a viral pathogen that most commonly spreads through sexual contact. HPV strains 6 and 11 normally cause genital warts, while HPV strains 16 and 18 commonly cause cervical cancer, which causes cancerous cells to spread in the cervix. Physicians can detect those HPV strains, using a Pap smear, which is a diagnostic test that collects cells from the female cervix.