Current thinking is that the human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and that all girls and boys in early high school need to be given HPV vaccines. In my book Gardasil: Fast-Tracked and Flawed I trace the early history of cervical cancer from a disease of obscurity to one of mainstream prominence. I have found and documented the numerous theories about the cause(s) of cervical cancer which have come and gone over the decades. I have read and written about how in the early years of the nineteenth century physicians claimed that sex was involved for it was observed that the disease was found in larger numbers among poorer, city women than amongst women in long term and stable relationships and in women who were living in rural areas. It was also thought that the disease was very rare in nuns until further research showed that religious sisters were subject to the disease too, and that, contrary to prevailing opinion, women in long-term relationships also developed cervical cancer. It was suggested that in the case of cancer of the uterus that the trauma of childbirth itself could be a risk factor. Such speculation might explain why there was more cervical cancer among women of low socioeconomic status than among women of means. Poorer women tended to have more children, lived harsher lives and possibly received less medical care, as well as missing out on much-needed rest and recovery time after the birth of their children.
I believe these early researchers were on the right track when they suspected that social circumstances such as poverty and inequality were in some way implicated in the disease process. British psychologist, author and researcher Susan Quilliam documented these lifestyle factors that might increase the chance of becoming ill with cervical cancer in her 1989 book Positive Smear. Written just before the idea that the human papillomavirus might be involved, she stressed the importance of a balanced diet and claimed that deficiencies in vitamin C, beta carotene and folic acid were common in women with cervical precancerous cells. Quilliam strongly emphasised the importance of a healthy environment, good hygiene and excellent nutrition as prerequisites for good health and resistance to disease. When discussing the causes of cervical cancer, she doesn’t shy away from a conversation about the contraceptive pill and how it has a negative effect on natural immunity as well as a propensity to lessen the body’s ability to use folic acid.
Today such environmental and socioeconomic factors relevant to the causation of cervical cancer are rarely considered. Instead the human papilloma virus is said to cause cervical cancer, no questions asked or answered. Why, when and how this has happened is crucial to the story of Gardasil: Fast-Tracked and Flawed.