By: Maayan S. Heller for Uterus1
You may have seen ad campaigns urging women to “Tell Someone” and young women to want to be “One Less” victim of HPV and cervical cancer. Curing or preventing cancer of any type is a goal for many in the medical world and now it seems that dream could be reality for some.
|What increases your risk of HPV?|
Having multiple sex partners
Having high-risk partner(s) (partner has multiple sex partners or HPV-infected sex partners)
Having unprotected sexual contact (not using condoms)
Starting sexual activity at a young age (before age 18)
Having a compromised immune system
The importance of Pap tests:
Vaccination with GARDASIL does not take the place of Pap tests (cervical cancer screenings).
You should keep following your doctor's or medical professional's advice on getting Pap tests.
Pap tests have been proven to help save lives. They look for abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix before they have the chance to become precancerous or cervical cancer; the more severe the abnormality, the more likely it is that cervical cancer could develop in the future.
Having an abnormal Pap isn't a reason to panic – it doesn't necessarily mean you are at risk for cancer or even that you have HPV.
Your doctor or healthcare professional may repeat the test or do other tests as needed. Pap tests are still an important part of managing your health, even if you have been vaccinated.
Gardasil is a new vaccine that can protect young women from contracting some of the most dangerous strains of human papilloma virus (HPV), an infection that’s commonly transmitted through sexual contact and in some cases can lead to cervical cancer. The FDA approved the drug on June 8, 2006, making Gardisil the first vaccine developed to prevent cervical cancer, precancerous genital lesions and genital warts due to four types of HPV (HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18). The vaccine, distributed by Merck & Co., is approved for use in females 9-26.
“The vaccine is quite promising and is highly protective against the HPV viruses associated with increased risk of cervical cancer,” explains Dr. Stacie Geller, Chairperson of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Cervical Cancer Elimination Taskforce and an associate professor of OB/GYN at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
A three-dose vaccine, Gardasil is already available from your doctor. A second vaccine, produced by GlaxoSmithKline, is expected to receive similar approval within the next year. But so far, private insurance or state programs don’t cover it, and at about $120/dose, this could pose problems for some.
HPV is part of the same group of viruses that includes common warts kids can get on their hands and feet. Genital HPV is passed on by sex or sexual contact. Most often, HPV is harmless and clears on its own. But sometimes it can have severe consequences such as cervical cancer, which causes the highest number of cancer-related deaths for women in the U.S. after breast cancer.
“This vaccine should be given to every girl or woman who is sexually active or ever will be,” says Dr. Ken Alexander, an associate professor of Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Chicago, an expert on viruses, and father of two daughters, 14 and 17. “It has the potential to reduce cervical cancer by about 70 percent.”
Merck hopes to someday receive approval for the vaccine to be used in boys as well as girls. But as hopeful and supportive of the vaccine as many are, there is some opposition to Gardasil from individuals and groups who believe its availability carries risks that can’t be overlooked.
“Data shows the vaccine is more effective when introduced before sexual activity begins, that is, in kids,” says Dr. Alexander, which is a big concern of opponents. “While some people believe that immunizing will encourage sexual behavior, there’s no data to support that… and immunizing doesn’t preclude you from talking to your kids,” says Dr. Alexander. Dr. Geller adds that the problem for many is that they associate the vaccine with sex. “Parents want to think they have total control, but they just don’t,” she says. “We need to educate people to think of it in terms of prevention of cervical cancer. We’re protecting against a future risk. It’s better to immunize early.”
Merck has launched several promotional campaigns since Gardasil’s approval, and in moving forward with its ongoing cervical cancer and HPV education efforts, the company’s newest campaign, “One Less,” encourages females eligible for the vaccine to begin their vaccination series as well as to continue seeing their doctors for regular healthcare and screening.
"The full public health benefit of reducing the burden of cervical cancer and HPV disease may be achieved through broad public awareness and vaccination with GARDASIL, which is the driving force behind ‘One Less,’” Bev Lybrand, vice president and general manager, HPV Franchise, GARDASIL, Merck Vaccine Division has said. “Merck is committed to educating and providing access to women and girls who may benefit from this critical vaccine."
Whether or not everyone agrees with the vaccine’s existence, perhaps all can agree on the merit of pushing to educate women about their health and their bodies. Gardasil may provide the first step in that direction.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:
HPV Vaccine Poised to Save Women’s Lives
New Vaccine May Prevent Cervical Cancer
Eliminating Cervical Cancer
Study: Vaccine Protects Against Cancer