Cervical Cancer Vaccine Q&A
What You Need to Know About Gardasil, the Newly Approved Cervical Cancer Vaccine
June 8, 2006 -- The FDA has approved Gardasil, a vaccine that targets the
virus responsible for most cervical cancers and genital warts. Here are 12
questions and answers on the new vaccine.
1. What is Gardasil?
Gardasil is a vaccine that targets four strains of human papillomavirus
(HPV). Those strains are called HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18.
HPV-16 and HPV-18 account for about 70% of all cervical cancers. Cervical
cancer is cancer of the cervix,
which connects the vagina to the uterus.
HPV-6 and HPV-11 account for about 90% of genital warts.
The vaccine is also approved to help prevent vaginal and vulvar cancers,
which can also be caused by HPV.
2. How does HPV spread?
HPV is spread through sex. HPV infection is common. About 20 million people
in the U.S. are infected with HPV, and by age 50, at least 80% of women will
have had an HPV infection, according to the CDC.
Most women with HPV infection don't develop cervical cancer.
3. Does Gardasil protect against all cervical cancers?
No. Though the vaccine protects against leading causes of cervical cancer,
it doesn't ward off other causes of cervical cancer.
4. How effective is Gardasil?
Studies have shown 100% effectiveness in protecting against infection with
HPV-16 and HPV-18 strains in people who had not been previously exposed to the
5. How long does Gardasil last?
Tests show that the vaccine lasts at least four years. Long-term results
aren't known yet.
6. Does the vaccine contain a live virus?
No. Gardasil contains a virus-like particle, but not the virus itself.
7. Who should get the vaccine?
The FDA approved Gardasil for girls and women aged 9-26. The FDA's decision
doesn't automatically make the vaccine part of the CDC's recommended vaccine
The drug company Merck, which makes Gardasil, reportedly is studying the
vaccine in women up to age 45 and may seek to broaden the approval group based
on those results.
Merck is also continuing to research use of the vaccine in boys and men, as
they can also become infected with HPV, which could lead to genital warts.
Merck is a WebMD sponsor.
8. Is Gardasil safe?
Reports from clinical trials, to date, show Gardasil to be safe.
9. Will Gardasil protect women from cervical cancer who've already
been exposed to HPV?
Gardasil is not designed to protect people who've already been exposed to
10. Will the new vaccine eliminate the need for cervical cancer
No. Gardasil doesn't protect against all causes of cervical cancer, so
screening (such as the Pap test) will still be needed. Screening is essential
to detect cancer and precancerous lesions caused by other HPV types. Screening
will also continue to be necessary for women who have not been vaccinated or
are already infected with HPV.