Saturday 25 November 2017

True loyalty put to the test with cancer vaccine vote

Dr Jim McDaid made an honourable choice to put patients before the party line, writes John Crown

Two doctors made me very proud of my profession last week. There are very few medical researchers whose work saves thousands of lives. Harold zur Hausen, the man who discovered that most cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus, is one of them. His work, originally treated with scepticism, challenged prevailing assumptions about the disease, but is now universally accepted within the biomedical community. He was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology (jointly with one of the discoverers of the HIV/AIDS virus).

This quiet, extraordinary gentleman was interviewed by Aine Lawlor on Morning Ireland this week. He calmly and authoritatively demolished the spurious arguments that were being advanced in defence of the indefensible decision by our Government to cancel the proposed life-saving cervical cancer vaccination programme for young girls. The minister, and the official in charge of the new cervical cancer screening programme, suggested that somehow cancer screening obviated the necessity for vaccination. This is incorrect.

Screening is critically important, it picks up pre-cancers and many early curable cancers. Screened lesions require surgical treatment -- treatment which while it is, in the great majority of cases, effective in preventing cancer -- doesn't always work, and can cause occasional serious side effects. Even countries with well-established screening have cervical cancer deaths. We already have cervical cancer screening -- done competently if not comprehensively -- for many years in Ireland. We still have cervix cancer. Many of my cervical cancer patients developed the disease despite diligent and competent screening.

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