Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Merck's Ad Miss Is Digene's Hit

By now you know that Merck's Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil has received FDA approval. But did you also know that the TV ad where a group of women expresses surprise at the link between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer is Merck's? Until recently, I had no idea. Not only did I not connect it with Merck, I was convinced it must be an ad sponsored by Digene, the maker of the HPV DNA Test. Each time I saw the ad, I gave Digene a couple of points for doing a good job of educating the public, and raising HPV awareness.

Which brings me to Digene's The company's PR people sent me the link, and, as you would expect, it's a site with information on why having the HPV test could be beneficial for you. I checked it out and it's a good, first step, resource. [More on HPV testing as an adjunct to Pap smear screening here.]

The one thing I do want you to take a look at, and pay particular attention to, is this depiction of dysplastic (abnormal) cells, in particular the degree of dysplasia.

As we've discussed, the viral particles penetrate the genital skin and mucosal surfaces through small abrasions. Once inside the cell, the virus causes abnormal changes in the host cell (dysplasia). The dysplasia can be low-grade, or high grade. [Notice the difference in the location of the abnormal cells--part of the thickness vs. full thickness.] Also, look at the difference in abnormal cell distribution between a precancerous condition (panels 2 and 3) and cancer (panel 4, lower right corner). From a treatment perspective, as long as the basement membrane is intact [precancerous condition], you can use a local method to "treat" the abnormal cells [by destroying/removing the affected tissue]. Keep these illustrations in mind when you discuss the results of a Pap/HPV test with your Ob/Gyn.

More on HPV DNA testing here, here, and here.

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