The hepatitis B vaccine, which became available in the United States and elsewhere around the world in the early '80s, has proved to be a very good idea. A study published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found cases of liver cancer have dropped significantly in children who received the vaccine.
Researchers in Taiwan collected information on almost 2,000 cases of liver cancer among people ages 6 to 29 at the time of diagnosis between the years of 1983 and 2004. Among people who vaccinated, there were 64 cases over almost 38 million person-years (the number of years times the number of people in the study) compared to 444 cancer cases in unvaccinated people in almost 80 million person-years.
Some people who received the vaccine developed liver cancer, the authors said. But records show they were born to hepatitis-infected mothers or did not get enough of the vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine is a three-shot series. The first shot is usually given to newborns, followed by two booster shots in the months thereafter.
"This study provides evidence of effective long-term cancer prevention by vaccination and supports the conclusion that the HBV vaccine is a good cancer-preventive strategy," the authors wrote.
Global immunization rates vary, however. Almost 86% of U.S. children are vaccinated compared to only about 28% in Southeast Asia, according to the study.
-- Shari Roan
Photo: A child receiving a hepatitis B shot. Credit: Norm Dettlaff / LasCruces Sun-News / AP.