Cervical Cancer Vaccine


] Gardasil, developed by Merck, is being touted as the world's only cervical cancer vaccine. Learn about this cancer drug.
] Gardasil, developed by Merck, is being touted as the world's only cervical cancer vaccine. Learn about this cancer drug.
Publications International, Ltd.

Texas recently became the first state to require that school-age girls receive the new cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil. This mandate from the state's governor, Rick Perry, has been greeted with staunch opposition from local parents' rights groups, which feel that it condones unsafe sexual practices. As other states, such as Florida and North Carolina, ponder cervical cancer vaccinations, similar debates have emerged.

If you're unfamiliar with Gardasil, you might be wondering why any concerned parent would oppose a measure that could virtually wipe out such a deadly form of cancer. However, a close examination of the drug reveals that it does not treat any type of cancer specifically; instead, it attacks a common sexually transmitted disease, the human papilloma virus (HPV), that is known to cause cervical cancer.

In this article, we will show you exactly how the drug Gardasil works and explain the possible impact of the vaccine on public health. Here's a glimpse at the topics we'll cover:

  • Cervical Cancer It's easy to see why there is such a need for a cervical cancer vaccine. Although cervical cancer is relatively easy to detect -- a simple Pap smear can help thwart the disease at its earliest stages -- it still kills nearly 300,000 women per year. Women with certain forms of the human papilloma virus (HPV) are particularly vulnerable to developing cervical cancer. We'll provide extensive details on this deadly disease.
  • Understanding Gardasil It's not completely accurate to say that Gardasil is a vaccine for cervical cancer. The drug doesn't work against the cancer itself. Instead, it is used to prevent the infection of the types of HPVs that can lead to cervical cancer. Gardasil is, nonetheless, a huge breakthrough in the fight against cervical cancer. Gardasil, which is injected three times over an eight-month period, has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. We'll explore the impact of this groundbreaking drug. //]]]]> ]]>

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.

Cervical Cancer

To understand the cervical cancer vaccine, you must first understand the disease itself. In this section, we'll tell you about the causes of cervical cancer and how it can be prevented.

What Is Cervical Cancer?

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb), which extends into the vagina. Cancer of the cervix is fairly common, claiming the lives of almost 300,000 women worldwide each year. However, the death rate from the disease has decreased 50 percent over the past 50 years or so, largely because of early diagnosis.

While early cervical cancer has no symptoms, it can be detected by means of a Pap smear. A Pap smear is part of a routine gynecological exam that involves scraping the surface of the cervix. The collected material is then tested for indications of cancer. Today, two out of three cases of cervical cancer are detected with this test before symptoms occur.

Women are far more likely to develop cervical cancer if they have had a sexually transmitted viral infection, such as genital warts or herpes; if they begin having sexual intercourse before age 18; or if they have had many sexual partners. A particularly aggressive type of cervical cancer appears in HIV-positive women.

If a Pap smear indicates the possibility of cervical cancer, a biopsy of the affected area will likely be done. Once the disease has been diagnosed, treatment depends on how far the cancer has advanced; early forms are almost always curable by surgery.

If a patient still hopes to bear children and the cancer is in an early stage, this surgery can sometimes be put off until children have been born. However, this is possible only if the disease does not seem to be progressing, and the cancer must be monitored carefully during this phase. The uterus should be removed eventually.

Cervical cancer is a significant worldwide health threat, and a vaccine capable of eradicating the disease would save thousands of lives. One of the first points we should clarify about Gardasil is that it is not exactly designed to prevent cancer. Women who have had sexually transmitted viral infections like genital warts are much more likely to develop cervical cancer. In actuality, Gardasil prevents these sexually transmitted diseases, referred to in the medical community as human papilloma virus, or HPV.

HPV and Cervical Cancer

Human papilloma virus is actually the name for a group of more than 100 viruses. Some of them lead to benign warts on the hands and feet, some cause genital warts, and some result in cervical cancer. More than 30 percent of the viruses commonly referred to as "HPV" are sexually transmitted diseases, and most times the infection can be cleared up with minor health consequences. According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 20 million people are currently infected with HPV, 6.2 million Americans get a new genital HPV infection each year, and 50 percent of sexually active adults acquire an HPV infection at some point in their lives.

While most cases of HPV will clear up on their own, there are some more persistent, "high-risk," varieties that are the main risk factor for cervical cancer. The longer these viruses remain in a woman's body, the greater the risk that infected cells will become cancerous. HPV is far and away the primary cause of cervical cancer. Just two of the strains of HPV are responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases worldwide. Naturally, if you can prevent HPV, you can go a long way in preventing cervical cancer.

According to the FDA, a drug has been created that can do just that. In the next section, we will learn more about Gardasil.

 

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.

Understanding Gardasil

The pharmaceutical company Merck has developed, as it says, "the world's first and only cervical cancer vaccine." Merck's assertion is not entirely true, but this cancer drug is still an innovation that some medical experts are ranking with the polio vaccine and antibiotics. Let's take a closer look at how the drug works.

Gardasil works by preventing the infection of the types of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer (HPV numbers 6, 11, 16, and 18 for future doctors out there). So when the FDA approved Gardasil, it did so for the prevention of cervical cancer, cervical pre-cancers, vulvar pre-cancers, vaginal pre-cancers, and the prevention of genital warts, among other more obscure conditions. A more accurate description of Gardasil, and the way the drug is described by the health care community, is an HPV vaccine.

Like all vaccines, Gardasil works by introducing a benign or weakened form of the virus into the body. Essentially, the vaccine kick-starts a woman's immune responses to the disease without the patient having to be exposed to the actual virus.

The main ingredients of the vaccine are purified, inactive proteins that come from the HPV types mentioned above. Gardasil is an injected vaccine, so the patient must be able to receive shots. The full course of the vaccine is three shots, over an eight-month period.

There is no question that Gardasil is effective. In clinical tests, Gardasil prevented 100 percent of HPV 16- and 18- related cervical pre-cancers in the nearly 9,000 women who were given the drug (compared to 53 cases in women who were given a placebo). There was only one reported case of genital warts in the 7,897 women who participated in the study to test Gardisil's effectiveness in preventing HPV types 6 and 11.

Though long-term studies are still pending, the women who took the drug reported very few problems, and only .01 percent of the subjects stopped taking Gardasil because of unpleasant side effects. The price tag of Gardasil is may seem hefty at $120 per dose, but this nothing compared to the health care costs of treating genital warts and cervical cancer.

The Impact of Gardasil

While Gardasil has many benefits and uses, recent advancements in treatment and screening have made cervical cancer almost 100 percent treatable. It can take up 10 years for an HPV infection to turn into cervical cancer, and regular Pap smears should catch a potential problem in its earliest -- and most treatable -- stage.

But cervical cancer still manages to take the lives of 300,000 women each year. How can this be? Many of the women who die of cervical cancer cannot afford regular gynecological exams because they do not have health insurance, or as might be the case in a third-world country, they do not have access to health care.

Unlike other forms of cancer in which all segments of the population are equally at risk, cervical cancer is most fatal to women who live in poverty. These are the women who can be most helped by the vaccine. Of the 300,000 annual deaths from cervical cancer, about 10 percent of those women live in the United States. The majority of the deaths occur in Africa and Central America. Seen in this light, Gardasil is every bit the medical landmark that Merck describes in its press releases.

It is hard to know what to believe when a new drug hits the market. Generally, there is a chorus of exciting promises without much proof. While the "cervical cancer vaccine" might not be exactly what a marketing department would like you to believe it is, Gardasil can still save hundreds of thousands of lives. And that is a real cause for fanfare.

 

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.

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