Cervical Cancer

Recently a vaccine for cervical cancer was discovered. This vaccine is a miracle of sorts; a way to prevent women from developing cervical cancer. The new vaccine for cervical cancer protects woman against the sexually transmitted virus (Human Papillomavirus or HPV) that is linked to its development. Condom use does not always prevent HPV as it can be contracted on parts of the body that are not covered by a condom.

Half of all sexually active women in the United States between the ages of 18-22 are infected with HPV. Over ten thousand women in the United States develop cervical cancer each year. Nearly four thousand will die from cervical cancer each year. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer. HPV changes the cells in the lining of the cervix. Because the body can fight off HPV many woman never show symptoms of the virus. When a woman continues to test positive for the virus she is at a higher risk for developing cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer begins in the lining of the cervix, the part of the female anatomy that connects the uterus to the vagina. The process of the disease going from precancerous to cancerous can take a few years. Screening and early detection is the key to saving lives.

The new vaccine for cervical cancer, called Gardasil, should be available this summer in a three shot series. The FDA has licensed Gardasil for use in girls and women between the ages of 9-26. It is best that the vaccine be given to women who have never been sexually active and have no risk of having already contracted HPV. Gardasil works by preventing four of the many strains of HPV, two of which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. The remaining two blocked strains of HPV are responsible for around 90% of genital wart cases.

Even though the cervical cancer vaccination is actually for the prevention of HPV it will be marketed as a vaccine for cervical cancer rather than for a sexually transmitted disease. More studies will be done to determine if the vaccine is effective in men to protect them from HPV and cancer of the penis caused by HPV.

As with many issues, there are opposing views about the new vaccine for cervical cancer. Some believe that the vaccination of girls will lead to promiscuity by giving them nothing to fear when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases. It will be up to individual states to decide whether or not to add vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for children attending school.

The vaccine for cervical cancer does not replace the need for women to have yearly pap smears. The vaccine will not prevent other sexually transmitted disease or problems with the female reproductive system that would be found in regular visits to the gynecologist.

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