As a follow up to the last blog post on the PAP test, it is appropriate to talk about cervical cancer prevention. The most recent data tells us that the vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). There are many different strains of HPV that can infect the body; some are benign (albeit annoying) and can cause benign warts on your fingers or toes. Some are high-risk, cancer-causing (also known as oncogenic) and can infect the cervix and cause pre-cancerous lesions, which if left undiagnosed or untreated may lead to cervical cancer. The PAP smear screens for cervical pre-cancerous changes.
Approximately 20 million Americans are infected with HPV, making it the most common sexually transmitted infection, with 6 million new cases per year. A healthy body is often able to attack the virus and successfully eradicate it. However, we also have a way to prevent HPV infection - the Gardasil vaccine. This vaccine is quadravalent, meaning it confers protection from 4 different strains of HPV. Two "low-risk" types - HPV 6 and 11 (responsible for most cases of genital warts), and two "high-risk" types - HPV 16 and 18 (responsible for ~70% of pre-cancer changes).
Gardasil is a series of 3 vaccines administered over a period of 6 months. The first vaccine can be given at any time from age 9 to 26 years. The second vaccine is given 2 months after the first. And the third vaccine is given 4 months after the second. Despite much wide-spread media attention regarding Gardasil, there have been large trials demonstrating the safety of the vaccine. Gardasil has now been licensed for use in boys aged 9 to 26 years as well, to help prevent the spread of HPV, to prevent anal, throat, and mouth cancers. For more information, check out the CDC website or the FDA website on Gardasil.
Call us to schedule your first Gardasil vaccine!