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HPV/Genital Warts Health Center

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Cancer Vaccine Works Long Term

Vaccine Protects Against Virus That Causes Cervical Cancer

Unanswered Questions

There are still many unanswered questions, most notably who will get the vaccine, when they will be vaccinated, and which vaccine they will get.

The GlaxoSmithKline vaccine protects against cervical cancer alone, while the Merck vaccine also targets two HPV viruses that cause genital warts.

But Harper says her findings suggest that the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine may protect women against cervical cancer longer than its competitor.

Harper directs the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at Dartmouth Medical School's Norris Cotton Cancer Center. The study was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, but she says she has also done research on the Merck vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline and Merck are WebMD sponsors.

"I'm not trying to pick a fight and say one vaccine is better than the other," she says. "These are both good vaccines, but it is clear that there are real differences between them."

If, as expected, the FDA approves the Merck vaccine in early June, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to weigh in on who should be vaccinated at its meeting later that month.

It may recommend that preteen girls be given the vaccine, or it may recommend the vaccine for girls in their teens.

HPV infection rates peak among women in their late teens and very early 20s, Harper says.

"Stay tuned for June," American Cancer Society Director of Breast and Gynecological Cancer Debbie Saslow, PhD, tells WebMD. "There are a lot of groups interested in having a voice in how this vaccine is used."

Some conservative groups have been vocally opposed to the vaccine, arguing that it could undermine efforts to discourage sex among teens.

Saslow says other conservative groups have expressed support for the vaccine, although they don't want it to be among the immunizations that schools require.

The Developing World

Immunization strategies for nonindustrialized countries, where 80% of cervical cancer deaths occur, remain to be determined.

In the U.S, the vaccine is expected to cost between $200 and $300 for a three-dose series, although the companies have not said how much they will charge, according to Saslow.

Projections are that without the vaccine, cervical cancer deaths in the developing world will rise dramatically in the coming decades.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $50 million for the prevention of cervical cancer in the coming decades, but it is not clear how big a role vaccination will play in its efforts.

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