A Medical Device Daily

Condoms – and condom manufacturers – received an important additional validation for the preventive healthcare sector last week with a report in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that their use goes beyond protection against the AIDS virus.

Using condoms “consistently and properly” significantly reduces the risk of infection by the virus that causes cervical cancer among newly sexually active women, according to the study in the June 22 NEJM.

While, intuitively, condoms would be thought to provide this protection, it has been a matter of controversy.

Research has shown that condoms protect against transmission of HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and herpes, but data on the role of condoms against other sexually transmitted infections has been limited. And previous studies even appeared to indicate that condom use did not reduce the risk of human papilloma virus (HPV) infection in men.

Rachel Winer, lead author of a study and a research scientist at the University of Washington (Seattle), said that “the message” of the new study is “that women can significantly reduce their risk of HPV infection by using condoms consistently with their male partners, but it's not 100% effective.”

“People try to cast aspersions on the efficacy of condoms,” added Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital (New York). “They try to use it as a platform that abstinence is only way to prevent viral transmission.” Wu added: “Yes, abstinence is only way to prevent it 100%. But condoms are effective in significantly reducing viral transmission, especially in regard to HPV.”

HPV is considered responsible for virtually all cases of cervical cancers, with an estimated 20 million men and women in the U.S. infected with HPV. For most, the virus shows no symptoms and disappears without treatment.

Cervical cancer is the second most common malignant disease in women globally, causing an estimated 290,000 deaths worldwide each year. In the U.S., some 10,400 new cases will be diagnosed in 2006, and 3,700 women will die from the disease.

In the new study, researchers followed 82 female university students who reported their first intercourse with a male partner during the study period or within two weeks before enrollment. The researchers took cervical and vulvovaginal samples for HPV DNA testing and Pap smears every four months. The women used electronic diaries to record information about their sexual activities.

The result: women whose partners used condoms 100% of the time were 70% less likely to get HPV infected, and women whose partners used condoms more than half the time had a 50% risk reduction in HPV infection, compared with those who used condoms less than 5% of the time.