By: Shelagh McNally for Fibroids1
Women suffering from cervical cancer or HPV will be remembering June 8, 2006 as the day the FDA approved the history-making vaccine, Gardisil. This vaccine neutralizes two strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) responsible for cervical cancer.
| Preventing and Screening for HPV|
According to the American Cancer Society:
Delaying having sexual intercourse if you are young can help you avoid HPV.
Limiting your number of sexual partners and avoiding sex with people who have had many other sexual partners lower your risk of exposure to HPV.
Remember that condoms do not completely protect from HPV because HPV can be passed through skin to skin contact with any HPV infected area. However condoms do provide some protection against HPV and also protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases passed through fluid exchange.
Getting a yearly pap smear can detect HPV and other precancerous conditions allowing doctors to treat these conditions before they fully develop into cancer.
HPV belongs to a group of viruses that include 100 different strains with more than 30 strains being sexually transmitted. Sometimes visible as herpes or genital warts, HPV usually affects the vagina, cervix, vulva and rectum. Often without symptoms, most infected people have no idea they have the virus and unwittingly pass it on to their partners. HPV has become the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the United States, and according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, there are approximately 20 million people in the United States infected.
Each year there are another 6.2 million infections so that by the age of 50 at least 80 percent of women who will be infected are infected. Most of the time infections caused by the virus clear up on their own but with the risk of persistent infection, HPV is responsible for at least 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide; there are nearly a half million diagnoses and 240,000 deaths each year. Small wonder that Gardisil is one of the most anticipated vaccines in recent years.
It was 15 years ago that local researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered the antibody produced by the immune system neutralizing the human papilloma virus. Merck Pharmaceuticals took over from there and began developing the Gardisil vaccine. “When we first started looking for HPV in the 80s, half of the women at the student health center had HPV,” said Dr. Cosette M. Wheeler, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and one of the lead investigators in the vaccine trials. “Now we can say that the vaccine is 100 percent effective against HPV Types 16 and 18, which are responsible for the majority of the cancers,” Dr. Wheeler said. The vaccine is also effective against the HPV strains that develop into genital warts.
| Facts on Gardisil|
Licensure announced on June 8, 2006.
Gardisil is the first vaccine ever for the prevention of cervical cancer.
Gardisil is a recombinant vaccine effective against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and types 6 and 11 are responsible for 90 percent of genital warts.
Gardisil is approved for use in females ages 9-26 years.
Gardisil does not protect against HPV types not in the vaccine so a yearly Pap smear is still required.
Find out more about the HPV virus and Gardisil at www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/default.htm
Hailed as a major breakthrough, Gardisil is also at the center of a growing controversy. Since the vaccine is most effective if administered before a young girl becomes sexually active, conservative groups are worried that Gardisil will promote promiscuity. At the same The American Academy of Immunology Practices is lobbying for the vaccine to become part of the routine inoculations even suggesting it be mandatory for school entry. While this debate continues, it’s more likely that budgetary and distribution issues will determine Gardisil’s future.
Gardisil is one of the most expensive vaccines on the market: a three-course shot, given over six months, costs between $300 and $500. Getting teens to show for appointments is also going to be a challenge and there is also plenty of discussion around who exactly should receive the shot – the recommended age is between 11 and 12. On June 29, a panel of vaccine experts brought together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will give their recommendations over who should receive the vaccine. It could be in doctors’ offices as early as this summer. In the meantime Merck is looking at developing the vaccine for men and boys. It should be noted that Gardisil does not protect against HPV strains not in the vaccine so a yearly Pap smear is still needed.