Before HPV there was common sense

The idea that a virus could cause cervical cancer is a relatively new one. In 1977  German virologist Harald zur Hausen claimed that the human papilloma virus – HPV known for causing warts could also cause cervical cancer. From then on all common sense flew out the window.

Why and how the focus changed from an understanding of cervical cancer as a disease associated with social and environmental conditions  to a cancer caused by a virus is addressed in Gardasil: Fast-Tracked and Flawed along with the disastrous ramifications for the health of young girls and boys who, in the wake of a scare campaign, are now injected with HPV vaccines.

In my book I explain why I became interested in this story of cervical cancer which stemmed from my diagnosis of cervical dysplasia in the 1980s. This was around the time that the story about a virus was causing the cancer was making the news. With the rates of cancer skyrocketing in the second half of the 20th century the world was concerned about the causes of cancer and in this case cancer of the cervix.  People wanted answers, they wanted to know the cause. Most of all they wanted a cure.

I often wonder about the ability of the scientific community to have most of the world believing that viruses, and not lifestyle and environmental changes, are the cause of these horrid cancers. But that is what has happened in the case of cervical cancer.

Numerous theories as to the cause(s) of cervical cancer have come and gone over the decades. There were the early nineteenth century physicians who claimed that ‘sexual excesses and immorality’ were involved, for it was thought that the disease was found in larger numbers among poorer, city women than amongst married and financially more secure women living in rural areas (Löwy, 2011, p. 140). Domenico Rigoni-Stern, an Italian surgeon, followed this dubious line of reasoning and claimed that cervical cancer rarely occurred in nuns (p. 140). This theory was later discounted when a study revealed that in fact religious sisters were subject to the disease too, and that, contrary to prevailing opinion, women in long-term relationships also developed cervical cancer. Further research by British physician J.C.W. Lever found that “single women bear a proportion of 5.83 per cent, married women 86.6 per cent, and widows 7.5 per cent,” of cases of cancer of the womb. With the notion that sexual excesses and/or immorality were the cause of the disease discredited, researchers began to suspect that a “chronic irritation” or an underlying inflammatory process could be the missing link. In the case of cancer of the uterus it was proposed 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 (Löwy, 2011, p. 143).

I believe these early researchers were on the right track when they proposed 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. Quilliam 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 (1989, pp. 96–98). 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 (p. 99). Regrettably, since Quilliam’s 1989 book, the pendulum has swung back to regarding cervical cancer as a disease associated with sexual activity. HPV is now seen as the main culprit and any discussion that there may be other factors that lead to this disease is silenced in the mainstream media. To the extent that Harald zur Hausen’s claim that HPV was the cause of the disease was welcomed by the scientific community even though other institutions such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) were wary and stated: “Although evidence for an association between cervical cancer and sexual activity has been available for over a century, the causal role of a sexually transmitted infectious agent has not yet been proven” (IARC, 1989).

Despite this lack of consensus, in 1989, Professor Ian Frazer and Dr Jian Zhou from the University of Queensland in Australia received funding from CSL Ltd, formerly known as the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to begin work on a vaccine which “would prevent carcinogenic changes believed to result from HPV infections”.  And what has followed is a disaster for over 73000 girls and boys around the world who have suffered shocking adverse events following their vaccination with HPV vaccines for a disease they are extremely unlikely to ever get.

In the interests of this generation of teenagers about to be vaccinated with these fast-tracked HPV vaccines we need to bring back some commonsense. For that I commend the work of Peter Duesberg and the findings presented in a paper published in Molecular Cytogenetics (2013) of which Peter Duesberg is one of six authors which found that the changes seen in cervical cells are caused by exposure to carcinogens such as cigarette smoke. According to the authors, the pieces of inactive HPV DNA that can be found in cervical cancers are from infections or warts that occurred 20-50 years before the cancer.

Indeed  recent research from Egypt puts the HPV causation into further jeopardy. Thabet et al. found that HPV wasn’t the main cause of pre-invasive and invasive cervical cancer among patients in the Delta Region, Egypt. They report the existence of HPV in 39.5% of premalignant lesions and 33.3% in malignant cervical lesions.

Let’s face it. HPV is a very common wart virus. Over 80 percent of us are affected at some stage in our lives. Most of this infection is cleared by the body within two years. Only around 1 percent of the world’s women develop cervical cancer.

This is a cancer much like others in that it is caused by social conditions and environmental factors and other influences such as ageing.

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