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More on the HPV Vaccine

The November 2006 issue of Glamour (page 114) has a short Q&A about the newly-released HPV vaccine, the vaccine that will prevent HPV-caused cervical cancer. I’ve summarized it here since I could not find the entire article online (I feel this is important information to be shared).

Two basic facts about HPV

  • HPV stands for human papillomavirus, the virus that causes genital warts.
  • The CDC reports that 80% of all women will contract this virus before they’re 50.
  • There are over 100 different strains of this virus. A few can cause cervical cancer, a few cause genital warts. I don’t know what, if any, effects the other strains have.
  • About the vaccine

    According to Glamour, the current vaccine blocks the two strains that cause the majority of cervical cancer, along with two strains that cause genital warts. A vaccine scheduled for approval in 2007 could offer better cancer protection but no protection against warts.

    The vaccine is recommended for women ages 11-26. Since the idea of the vaccine is prevention (it is not a cure), younger women who may not have been exposed to the virus will benefit most. Sexually active women in their late 20s are assumed to have been exposed to the virus already, in which case prevention by proper condom usage and detection through regular Pap smears are recommended. But feel free to ask your doctor about the vaccine even if you’re 27 or older. There are exceptions to every rule.

    Even if you get the vaccine, this doesn’t mean you can skip condom usage or regular Pap smears. The vaccine protects against the two strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer, not all cervical cancer. Detection is still the best tool to surviving this very deadly cancer.

    Health insurance will probably cover your costs if you’re under 27. If you’re not covered by your insurance, expect to pay around $360 for the series of three shots.

    Help other women get vaccinated

    Cervical cancer (not breast cancer) is the number-one deadliest cancer for women in developing countries because they don’t have access to health services like regular Pap smears (and Pap smears are the only way of detecting this particular cancer as it develops). Since countless women could be saved by the new vaccine, you can make a donation to help. PATH.org is an international health organization that will put your funds to good use. Read about their HPV vaccine program here.