Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Prevention through Western and Eastern Lenses: The Biology of HPV, Vaccine Acceptance in China, and Dietary Therapy

Plan Author

  • Alison Wu, 2014

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Perception of the Environment
  • Course: Intermediate Chinese II
  • Course: Topics in Algebra, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calculus II
  • Tutorial: Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Project Description

A study of the relationship between Chinese herbal medicine use and HPV vaccine acceptance among female college students.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Susan Fetzer, University of New Hampshire


In response to articles and books that state that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is largely intertwined with culture in China, I wanted to see whether opinions towards Eastern forms of medicine could affect people’s acceptance towards Western forms of medicine such as vaccines. Subsequently, I conducted a study in Changsha, China in the summer of 2013 that was funded by the Margaret A. Cargill foundation, Christian Johnson Endeavor foundation and Marlboro College’s summer internship grant. In a nutshell, I wanted to examine whether Chinese herbal medicine use (a common form of treatment in TCM) and other factors (i.e. nursing and non-nursing students, urban and rural, those who take herbs and do not take herbs) affected the acceptability of the HPV vaccine among college women in China. This trip to China creates the basis for my Plan of Concentration.

My first research paper, or main project, investigates various aspects of HPV vaccine acceptability including knowledge and attitudes about HPV in China, sociocultural sensitivities about an STI vaccine, and concerns about cost and safety. More importantly, I address my main question of whether Chinese herbal medicine and other factors affect one’s acceptance of the HPV vaccines based on my questionnaire data.

For the rest of my Plan, I wanted to tackle a variety of topics concerning HPV, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and cervical cancer prevention in a multidisciplinary manner. I wanted to learn about these topics through both a biological and sociocultural lens as to not limit myself by studying only one aspect of disease. Correspondingly, my second paper explores the natural history of HPV by introducing readers to its structure, how it affects epithelial cells, and how it can potentially lead to cancer. Further, it provides insight on how the HPV vaccine can prevent infection.

To familiarize readers with TCM, the third paper serves as an introduction to TCM and looks at its applicability in the modern world. I hope that it can provide context for readers to understand the relevance of why I studied TCM and how its usage could possibly affect Western medicine acceptability. In fact, this paper places the complications of accepting a different culture’s medicine into our own shoes by exploring the possibility of implementing and integrating TCM into Western medical systems. Overall, it demonstrates the value of TCM and considers this form of medicine a powerful tool in addition to Western medicine for disease prevention.

Lastly, my independent component for Plan brings together all the pieces that I have considered in my research including TCM, Western medicine, and cervical cancer prevention. Specifically, I explore Chinese dietary therapy and Western nutrition as an additional or alternate means of preventing and treating cervical lesions and cervical cancer. This paper provides background on Chinese dietary theory with empirical data based on case histories of patients with cervical lesions. It also explores Western nutrition through a number of epidemiological studies and further examines the biological effects of nutrient components onto the body.


“Overall, I believe that people can greatly benefit from having access to both types of medicine. Modern medicine on the one hand can provide us with clear and precise prognoses. It can tell us whether a tumor is benign or cancerous and it can target parts of our bodies that may need immediate attention (e.g. appendix removal, broken bones etc.). Chinese medicine, however, is weak in this respect. Because TCM doctors evaluate the many parts and functional systems of the body, they may miss situations where one part of the body is in need of treatment (e.g. cancer). Further, TCM cannot give us definite diagnoses about illnesses as determined by WM and lacks the theory and technique to differentiate between say, a benign or cancerous tumor. Conversely, WM is less likely to take into consideration the qualitative aspect of health. Kaptchuk finds that WM places the ‘texture’ of human life into measurable units.”

”Based on a materia medica for Chinese herbal medicine, turmeric is a warm herb that is acrid and bitter in taste. It has a channel propensity towards the spleen, stomach, and liver. It is known to invigorate blood due to ‘blood stasis caused by cold from deficiency.’ In essence, this means that turmeric can help reduce pain and swelling caused by trauma and can also relieve chest or abdominal pain. In addition, turmeric is known to treat Qi and blood stagnation (which is a common problem in precancerous lesions and tumors) by breaking up blood and driving Qi downwards. The materia medica notes that these actions make turmeric a valuable herb for treating not only painful swellings but also gynecological disorders.”


The most interesting part of my Plan is definitely the research that I conducted in China last summer. I will always remember the support that I received from my professors and staff while working on Plan. Despite their busy schedules, they always made themselves available to help me (from general advising to helping me with my writing skills). I really appreciated that!