Ask the Pharmacist
by Ron & Marla Chapleau

July 12, 2016


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Q) Rather than answer a specific question this week, I thought I would share a few articles that I have come across over the last few months that caught my attention but for one reason or another never made it into a separate column.

A) In a study published a few weeks ago, the effectiveness of the two vaccines that we administer to young females to protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV) were assessed.

There are two licensed vaccines available in Canada, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix. They are both given in three separate doses to females between the ages of 9 and 26 (and increasingly to males between the ages of 9 and 15) to provide some level of protection against the possible consequences of HPV, mainly cervical cancer and genital warts. The main difference between the two products is the number of strains they guard against; Gardasil works against 9 different types of HPV whereas Cervarix is effective against only two.

The challenge for health officials is to assess just how effective these vaccines really are when they are used in the real world outside of the artificial constraints that clinical trials place upon their participants.

In this study, conducted in Alberta, 10,000 young females were assessed for the presence of abnormal cervical cells via a Pap screening. Abnormal cervical cells are possible precursors to cancer cells so a reduction in their number would be a great indication that the vaccines were achieving the results health experts were hoping for when they started offering school based inoculation a few years ago. The results were indeed very encouraging.

Those vaccinated females showed a 50% less chance of having these abnormal cells demonstrating that these two vaccines are highly effective. Considering that it is estimated that 75% of sexually active unvaccinated Canadians will be infected with HPV at some point (note, that the vast majority who are infected will not go on to have any diseases or symptoms related to this virus), there is an even stronger case to be made today than ever before that the HPV vaccines should be a literal no-brainer.

A study out of Cardiff University tried to assess whether Aspirin (ASA or acetylsalicylic acid) truly has cancer fighting properties as other studies have hinted at. And, if it does, do the benefits outweigh the risks posed by Aspirinís well-known potential to cause internal bleeding.

Rather than running a new study, the researchers analyzed data from 47 other studies on the effects of aspirin on breast cancer, bowel cancer and prostate cancer with participants followed for on average 5 years. Their findings suggested that for those already battling the aforementioned cancers, taking a low dose Aspirin, in addition to their other treatments, was associated with a reduction in mortality of between 15 & 20%. The Aspirin also seemed to reduce the likelihood of the cancer spreading.

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All of this is great news but, like many studies, it asks almost as many questions as it answers. Researchers note that there is wide variability with each type of cancer as well as within the affected individuals so that further research will need to be conducted to help determine whether Aspirin is only effective for certain types of tumors or in those individuals who have specific genetic markers.

That being said, the fact that a drug which is relatively safe and inexpensive as Aspirin may have the ability to improve cancer outcomes so dramatically is extremely encouraging to say the least.


For more information about this or any other health related questions, please contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your Health and Wellness Destination.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016