2008-07-18 / Columnists

SJEH Wellness Corner

A Vaccine Provides Women With A Medical Breakthrough
Commentary By Jerald Korman, MD Chairman, OB/GYN Department

In June of 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine considered highly effective in preventing infections that are a cause of cervical cancer in women.

This is a very important medical breakthrough, because it is the first vaccine ever against cervical cancer. According to American Cancer Society statistics, nearly 3,700 women die of cervical cancer in the US each year. This vaccine will save women's lives and addresses a major women's health problem.

The vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, is highly effective. It provides nearly perfect protection against two strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and two additional strains that are the cause of 90 percent of cases of genital warts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) all recommend that the vaccine, Gardasil, be routinely given to girls when they are 11 or 12 years of age. HPV is one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted infection in the world.

At least 20 million people in this country are already infected. At least 50 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives.

It is most common in young women and men in their late teens and early 20s. Since many people have no symptoms of HPV and do not even know that they are infected, they can pass it on to their sexual partners.

There is no treatment for HPV. But there are treatments for the health problems caused by HPV, such as genital warts, cervical cell changes and cancers caused by HPV. The only known way to prevent getting an HPV infection is to avoid direct skin-to-skin contact.

The vaccine is given in a series of three-doses, completed over six months. Gardasil can be started as early as age nine. The vaccine has been tested in thousands of women (ages nine to 26 years old) around the world. These studies have shown no serious side effects. The most common side effect is brief soreness at the injection site.

The vaccine, manufactured by Merck, may not fully protect everyone and does not prevent all types of cervical cancer, so it is important for women to continue to get screened regularly for cervical cancer. Studies are now being done to determine if the vaccine works to prevent HPV infection and disease in males.

For more information about the HPV vaccine, please contact the Obstetrics/ Gynecology Department at St. John's Episcopal Hospital at 718-869- 7382.

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