Political Science

Article excerpt


I thank Brendan Conway for his several good comments on my book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science" ("The frauds, distortions, when science turns political," Books, Sunday). However, I must take issue with his claim that the human papilloma virus has been "definitely proven to cause cancer," specifically cervical cancer.

Here are some facts. The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. At some point in their lives, 75 percent of men and women of reproductive age are estimated to have been infected with it. Up to 20 million Americans may be infected at any given time. For perhaps 75 percent of women, however, the immune system wipes out the infection within a year. For those with compromised immune systems, the infection may be long-lasting.

In the end, only one out of 1,000 women with HPV develop invasive cervical cancer. A few develop it with no trace of HPV. So the virus is not necessary and is far from sufficient to cause cervical cancer.

Furthermore, the highest rates of genital HPV infection are found in adults between the ages of 18 and 28, and yet the median age for diagnosis of cervical cancer is 48. There is a 20-year period during which something else is happening.

In the chapter on cancer research in my book, I discuss what most probably is responsible for this long delay, present in almost all cancers. Over many cell generations, a new cellular phenotype emerges with the wrong complement of chromosomes. This is the aneuploidy theory of cancer, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has paid almost no attention to it, even though all solid cancers are aneuploid. Cancer cells have the wrong complement of chromosomes - usually too many.

It is true that the NCI says the papilloma virus is "the major cause" of cervical cancer, but the whole thrust of my chapter is that the NCI, over a 40-year period, adhered first to the viral cancer theory and then (and to date) to the gene-mutation theory and that these theories have been unproductive. It is time to look at something else.

Mr. Conway wonders why I failed to mention "the most famous cancer-causing virus" and speculates that it is because "political bias" didn't cause the problem. Actually, the notion of virally caused cervical cancer became very politically correct some years back. Perhaps I should have discussed that. …