Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cervical Cancer Vaccine: Do we need it?

By: Jenny Walters

As you watch television, you cannot go a day or even a couple hours without seeing the commercial for Gardasil, “the first ever cervical cancer vaccine.” Gardasil claims to stop cervical cancer before is starts. The Gardasil vaccine is recommended for girls ages 11 to 12, but can be used in girls as young as 9. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, written by Bobby Gostout, MD, and entitled Cervical cancer vaccine: Who needs is, how it works, Gardasil is the newest addition to the official childhood immunization schedule.[1]

Cervical cancer affects 10,000 women a year and leads to 4,000 deaths.1 In 2005, according to the World Health Organization, there were an estimated 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of death in women, even with treatment.

Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.1 HPV spreads through sexual contact. Gardasil specifically blocks two cancer-causing types of HPV: types 16 and 18. Gardasil also blocks types 6 and 11, which are associated with genital warts and mild Pap test abnormalities.

The Gardasil vaccine allows young girls immune system to become “activated before their likely to encounter HPV.” Vaccinating young girls also allows for higher antibody levels, which results in greater protection against cervical cancer.1

To see earlier positive effects of the Gardasil vaccine, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a “catch-up immunization for girls and women ages 13 to 26” be administered.1 Currently, the vaccine is not required for school enrollment, but may be in the future.1 Gardasil has been proven to be “remarkably safe.”1

Common side effects include: soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever or flu-like symptoms. There were no reports of clinical trial discontinuation due to serious side effects. So what does this all mean?

As a mother and wife, HPV is not a threat I worry about now. However, during nursing school, I had a class of about 18 girls. Of those 18 girls, almost every one of them had the HPV infection. It seemed as though each week I would hear of another student having an abnormal Pap test due to HPV. HPV is non-discriminating, it can affect anyone. If the Gardasil vaccine can help block HPV infection, than maybe one day cervical cancer will no longer be the number one killer of women.

[1] Gostout B, MD. Cervical cancer vaccine: who needs it, how it works. Sep 2007. Available at: Accessed on Jun 02, 2008.

No comments: