Last week, the FDA approved the first vaccine that protects against most cervical cancer. The vaccine, Gardasil, prevents infection by 4 strains of HPV, two of which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer. The other two cause most cases of genital warts. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus.
The vaccine needs to be administered before a person has been exposed, that is, sexually active. The suggestion is to vaccinate females ages 9 to 26. The vaccine will not be effective on those who already have those 4 strains.
The vaccine does work and it's really great news. However, it could be a number of years before we see its true effect. Cervical cancer can take as long as 20 years to develop. How long the vaccine is effect is still not know.
Still, there are some issues. The vaccine is quite expensive, from $300 to $500. The people most at risk for developing cancer are the poor, who can't afford the vaccine. Gates Foundation have announced they will provide some free vaccines and Merck & Co. have said they plan a patient assistance program. I'm sure there will be a few government programs in place. Not all who need it will be able to get it.
There are biological issues. There are at least 50 strains of genital HPV and like all virus, they mutate. This vaccine only works on 4 strains, so one can still get pre-malignant changes and cancer. One concern is that a woman gets the vaccine and continues risky sex thinking she is protected. So, while deaths from these 2 strains decrease, we may see an increase of cancer from the other strains. This is why some groups support the vaccine but prefer that is doesn't become mandatory. They'd rather teach not having sex before marriage. This way, a person is protected not only against HPV, but from all other sexually transmitted diseases.
National Cervical Cancer Coalition
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