Gardasil – World’s First Cancer Vaccine

Gardasil is medical history in the making. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) reports that this vaccine has proven to be 100 percent effective against two forms of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus responsible for most cervical cancers in women. Those two forms of HPV are HPV 16 and 18 and are sexually transmitted viruses. Together, they cause about 70% of all cervical cancers. The CDC estimates that nearly 20 million people are infected with HPV, and more than 5 million new cases are transmitted in the U.S. each year. Most people will be unaware that they are infected because there are generally no symptoms associated with HPV.

It’s not quite clear whether the vaccine will be mandatory or optional nor who will get the vaccination once it becomes available, which some researchers say could be as early as June 2006. The Center for Disease Control recommended vaccinating girls as young as eleven years old, but the primary focus was on the 13-26 age bracket. Once the vaccine is approved, it still won’t be an easy thing to come by. The recommended course of treatment is three vaccines over a six month period, with each vaccine costing between $300-$500. Side effects appear to be minimal, with the most common complaint being soreness at the site of the injection. Headaches were also contributed to the vaccine. There is cause for concern, though, regarding the price of the injections. Some would argue, “But how can we afford that?”

Given the statistics regarding cervical cancer, others would argue, “How can you afford not to?” In the United States, an estimated 10,370 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2005, and an estimated 3,710 deaths from cervical cancer. Genital warts are common – 500,000 to 1,000,000 cases in the United States alone. In developing countries, the statistics are much, much higher due to lack of health care available to screen for such infections and cancers. Merck & Co. is hoping to team up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to determine how Gardasil could most effectively be marketed in those areas of the world.

Gardasil is far from being a cure all. The manufacturer of Gardasil, Merck & Co., says it will prevent the bulk of HPV viruses, but not all of them. Safe sex practices are essential with or without the vaccine. Most women who develop cervical cancer have never had a Pap smear or haven’t had one in five years or more. Most of cervical cancers can be detected through a Pap smear early enough for lifesaving treatment. Women should always have a yearly Pap smear done to check for other abnormalities and insure total gynecological health.

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