Thursday, September 20, 2007

The First Vaccine against Cervical Cancer

I thought we should take another look at cervical cancer. From the look of things Malawi seems to be one of the most affected countries and it high time us women plucked up enough courage to go for a test. So as we contemplate about going for a paps smear let hear about this new vaccine.

On June 8, 2006 the FDA approved the first-ever vaccine against cancer: Gardasil. In clinical trials Gardasil, manufactured by Merck, has been 100% effective in preventing infection with HPV strains 16 and 18, which together cause 70% of cervical cancer cases. The vaccine is also 99% effective in preventing HPV strains 6 and 11, which together with strains 16 and 18 cause about 90% of genital wart cases. Gardasil also protects against vaginal and vulva cancers, two other gynecological cancers that also are linked to HPV, according to another study.

I hear this vaccine is a significant advance in the protection of women's health in that it strikes at the infections that are the root cause of many cervical cancers. The vaccine is expected to have a dramatic effect on women's health worldwide, where cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women; and is estimated to cause over 470,000 new cases and 233,000 deaths each year.

HPV is the slowly becoming the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country according to statistics.

Who Gets the Vaccine
As Gardasil is most effective in women who have never been exposed to HPV, it should be given to young girls before they are sexually active. The vaccine is approved for children as young as 9 and the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will determine to whom and when it should be administered. The ACIP's vaccine group is recommending girls 11 – 12 should be given the vaccine and there's some discussion about giving it to young boys, as well. While men can't get cervical cancer, HPV would be much less likely to spread if both sexes were vaccinated.

It seems apparent that the first vaccine against cancer should be highly celebrated. And for that first vaccine to be against a cancer only women can get is pretty spectacular when you consider it is something that wouldn't have occurred just 15 years ago when women's health concerns weren't studied apart from men's. However, because the vaccine is technically for a virus that is transmitted sexually, some conservative groups oppose it. "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful," Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council was quoted in New Scientist, "because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex." The logic here is about as sound as saying 16-year-olds' shouldn't be allowed to use seat belts because they might take that protection as license to drive recklessly.

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