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New Cervical Cancer Vaccine Guidelines

American Cancer Society Differs From Other Groups on Vaccinating Women Over 18

Not for Those Over 26

Currently, there are no HPV vaccine studies on women over age 26. The FDA has approved Gardasil only for girls and women age 9 to 26.

Also, there is not enough evidence to say whether booster shots will be needed throughout a woman's life.

NYU's Blank says it's important to note that while most cervical cancer cancer is related to HPV, not all HPV infections -- even those caused by strains 16 and 18 -- will result in cervical cancer.

"Most HPV infections, even potentially carcinogenic ones, resolve or become undetected in a year or less," says Blank. Many women never even know they were infected.

Moreover, she says, even persistent HPV infections don't always progress to precancerous lesions.

According to the ACS report, 75% of all low-grade lesions, and up to 90% of high-grade lesions, resolve without treatment -- and never go on to cause cancer.

When cancer does occur, the process involves several steps that could take as long as 20 years. But, in most cancers, those steps begin with HPV infection -- one reason doctors are hopeful vaccinating women at a young age will pay off.

"If you can vaccinate a woman before she becomes sexually active, you will help knock out step one -- HPV acquisition -- and that hopefully means knocking out cervical cancer," says Einstein.

As good as that sounds, Einstein adds that it will take many years before we learn whether or not the vaccine will be that effective.

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