The Austin Chronicle

Weapon Against Cervical Cancer Approved

By Jordan Smith, June 16, 2006, News

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on June 8 the approval of the drug Gardasil, a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer and genital warts caused by four unique strains of the human papilloma virus (or HPV) in women. Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death in women worldwide, killing more than 200,000 each year. In the U.S., about 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and about 4,000 die from the disease each year.

"This is a huge step forward for women's health," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a press release. "Prevention is the key to good health, and this vaccine will give future generations the promise of health, safety and peace of mind."

HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the U.S. – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 6.2 million Americans are infected with HPV each year and that more than half of all sexually active people become infected at some point in their lives. The Gardasil vaccine has been approved for use in girls and women ages 9-26 who've never been infected with HPV. Because the vaccine is only effective in those who have never been infected with HPV, early immunization is the key to prevention; on June 29 the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will decide whether to endorse routine Gardasil vaccination, a critical step in making the vaccine the "standard of care" for HPV, reports the Chicago Tribune. If the vaccine gets the committee's stamp of approval, individual states would be able to add Gardasil to its list of required vaccinations for public school students. Whether that would happen, what with the conservative opposition already huffing and puffing about how the vaccine would likely encourage sexual activity, remains to be seen, and will likely be the highest hurdle the nascent cancer-preventing drug has left to face.

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