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HPV, Cervical Cancer Vaccine: 15 Facts

Here's what you need to know about Gardasil.

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No. The vaccine does protect against the strains of HPV most likely to cause cancer. But it does not protect against all HPV strains.

However, recent reports suggest that the vaccine may give wider protection than originally thought. There is preliminary evidence it may offer some protection against other HPV strains, which cause 8% or 9% of cervical cancers.

6. How effective is the new vaccine?

Studies have shown it is 100% effective in the prevention of cervical precancers and noninvasive cervical cancers caused by HPV-16 and 18 in those not already exposed to those strains, according to Merck & Co. Inc., which makes Gardasil. Merck is a WebMD sponsor.

7. If someone is already sexually active, will this vaccine still work?

If a person has been infected with any of the four strains the vaccine protects against, the vaccine won't provide protection against that type. But it will prevent infection from the other three.

8. How long is Gardasil effective?

Research suggests the vaccine lasts at least four years. Long-term results are not yet certain. The protection might last longer.

9. Does the vaccine actually contain HPV or any live virus?

No. It has a virus-like particle, but not the actual virus.

10. Is Gardasil safe?

Clinical trial data have found it is safe.

11. What does the vaccine cost? Will insurance cover it?

The "list" price is about $120 per dose, and three doses are needed. But that is the price your doctor pays to the manufacturer. It does not include the cost of an office visit or other charges, so the cost to individuals could be higher. The federal Vaccines for Children Program will provide free vaccines to those under age 19 who qualify. More information on that program is on the CDC web site, www.cdc.gov. A number of insurers say they plan to cover the costs.

12. Is it available everywhere in the U.S.?

Supplies have been shipped nationwide, according to Merck, although your individual doctor's office or clinic may not have ordered it.

13. Will the new vaccine make cervical cancer screens such as the Pap test passé?

No. Screening with a Pap test is still needed, since the vaccine does not protect against all cervical cancer.

14. Is this the only vaccine for cervical cancer?

There's a second vaccine in the works: Cervarix, from GlaxoSmithKline. Cervarix targets two HPV strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18. GSK says it plans to seek FDA approval for Cervarix by the end of the year. Early studies find that this vaccine, like Gardasil, is extremely safe and effective. GlaxoSmithKline is a WebMD sponsor.

15. How common is cervical cancer and how deadly?

The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2007, there will be about 11,150 new U.S. cases of invasive cervical cancer, and 3,670 cervical-cancer deaths.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. There are about 500,000 new cases, and 250,000 cervical-cancer deaths each year. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 80% of cases occur in low-income countries, where cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women

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