In June of 2006, The Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil -- the HPV vaccine for females between the ages of 9 and 26. In February of 2008, the FDA announced that Gardasil has been shown to help protect women against vaginal and vulvar cancers caused by HPV types 16 and 18, are believed to lead to 70% of cervical cancer cases.
What exactly is HPV?
HPV or Human Papilloma Virus is the name of a group of more than 100 strains of similar viruses. HPV is also classified as a sexually transmitted disease because more then 30 strains have been identified as transmitted by sexual contact.
For parents and women to make an informed decision about the vaccine, they need to understand what exactly the vaccine is, what it is trying to prevent, the risks and benefits and any possible impact the disease/vaccine may have on health in the future.
Gardasil, or the Quadrivalent Human Papilloma Virus recombinant Vaccine, is the first vaccine of its kind to target four strains of HPV. Two strains, number 6 and 11, are believed to be responsible for 90% of genital warts caused by the HPV virus. The other two strains, number 16 and 18, are believed to lead to 70% of cervical cancer cases.
HPV is the most common STD (sexually transmitted disease) in the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 20 million people are currently infected by HPV. At least 50% of all sexually active men and women will acquire HPV at some point in their lives. The CDC also estimates that by age 50, nearly 80% of all females will acquire some form of HPV.
HPV makes its living in skin and mucus membranes. The most common areas are the labia/vulva, inside the vagina, cervix, penis and anus/rectum. Though not as common, HPV can be acquired through oral sex. The lips and inside the mouth are another access point for the HPV virus.
The problem with HPV and the likely reason it is the most common STD in the world is because the virus almost always has no symptoms. This includes both males and females. A diagnosis is made by abnormal findings during a pap test. For persons who contract the strains that cause genital warts, the diagnosis is made by visual exams. There is currently no test in the U.S. to check men for HPV. The difference between Herpes acquired genital warts and HPV is that the HPV warts can clear up with no treatment. There is currently no cure for HPV or Herpes.
Gardasil was designed to target strains of the virus: six and eleven, the strains that cause genital warts (if you pay attention to the commercial for Gardasil, it makes no mention of these strains causing genital warts but rather states "the four most common strains known to cause cervical cancer") that we know already clear up on their own.
What about the other strains of HPV?
The American Cancer Society states the following HPV strains to be high risk for cervical cancer:
16,18,31,33 and 45, although CDC reports 10 of 30 known strains cause cervical cancer.
On January 19, 2007, The ACS released their new guidelines giving the green light to vaccinate girls between the ages of 11-12 as routine. They also recommend vaccinating as young as nine. Women over the age of 26 were not recommended to receive the Gardasil Vaccine.
|Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
*The ACS lists the following factors for cervical cancer:
The ACS also states that condoms decrease the risk, but do not completely protect against HPV because there is still skin to skin contact.
The ACS believes that HPV is needed to have cervical cancer ever appear. Early detection with regular pap tests is crucial.
A study was published July 6th, 2006 by Agustin A Garcia MD and co-authored by Omid Hamid MD and Anthony El-Khoueiry MD called "Cervical Cancer."
These researchers found cervical cancer to be the second most common malignancy in women worldwide. They also found that cervical cancer is relatively uncommon in the U.S. They mention that the incidence of cervical cancer has declined steadily in the U.S. over the past few decades. They contribute this to mass screenings with pap smears. The study also concluded that cervical cancer represents 2% of cancer deaths in the U.S.
Gardasil is being marketed to 11-12 year old girls. The reason is because it is believed Gardasil is more effective before girls become sexually active.
The precautions for Gardasil state that as with any vaccine-vaccination, it may not result in protection in all vaccine recipients.
Gardasil has also not been tested or evaluated to know if it itself has the potential to cause cancer. Gardasil is not intended to be used by pregnant women and the effects of the vaccine being excreted in breast milk were severe. 17 severe adverse experiences were reported but were just deemed unrelated by an investigator.
Several women during the research trials became pregnant shortly after receiving the Gardasil vaccine. There were 15 cases of congenital anomalies. Five cases were documented after pregnancy occurred with in thirty days of a dose of Gardasil.
The National Vaccine Center reports one-quarter of all reports filed after Gardasil were neurologic in nature.
The most common reactions that were reported: