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    Cervical Cancer: A Thing Of The Past?

    By Charlotte Gerber     

    The National Cancer Institute released their data this year on the study of the effectiveness of a vaccine that could make cervical cancer a thing of the past. Cervical cancer, according to last year’s data, claimed over 41,000 women’s lives in the U.S. alone; 250,000 women die each year worldwide. This form of cancer is the third most common form of cancer in women. Breast cancer and colorectal cancer are placed first and second as the most prevalent forms of cancer in women.

    HPV or the human papillomavirus is a common sexually transmitted virus. Many women have this virus and are not even aware of it; it usually goes away on its’ own without treatment. A strain of the virus, HPV-16, is virulent and causes lesions that may lead to cervical cancer. This strain of the virus is found in fifty percent of women that have cervical cancer.

    Merck Laboratories performed a study of their vaccine that could help prevent cervical cancer. There were 2,392 women participants in Merck’s study and they ranged in age from 16 to 23. These women were in two separate groups; one received the vaccine and the other received a placebo. The test was also a double blind one where neither the patient nor the investigators knew whether a placebo or vaccine was being administered. The women received three shots and were then followed for 17 months after the third shot had been administered. The final results of the test showed that 41 women in the group developed an HPV-16 infection; these women were in the placebo group. Nine of the 41 women with the HPV-16 infection developed pre-cancerous lesions. None of the women that received the actual shots instead of the placebo developed the infection.

    There are certain limitations to the cervical cancer vaccine, though. Three concerns voiced by the National Cancer Institute include the lasting effects of the vaccine (will a booster shot be required), the vaccine doesn’t prevent an existing infection from progressing and it is not effective against other strains of HPV.

    Currently, the cost of the three shot vaccine series is $360. Unfortunately not all insurance companies are covering these shots yet. It is expected that many health insurance companies will include the shots in their policies by January of 2007.

    Women will still need to have a yearly Pap test done in order to check for abnormal cell growth even if they have the series of three shots. The Pap test can help detect abnormal cells but it is not a diagnostic test for cancer. The Pap test will still be recommended as part of a yearly exam for women as part of a preventative gynecological health program.

    Written by Charlotte GerberRate this article:

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