Dysplasia; Human papillomas virus; Pap smear
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to avoid getting infected with human papilloma virus (HPV). Because HPV is sexually transmitted, practicing safe sex and limiting the number of sexual partners can help reduce risk. A vaccine can protect against the major cancer-causing HPV strains in girls and young women who have not yet been exposed to the virus. Regular Pap tests remain the most effective way of preventing the development of invasive cervical cancer.
In 2006, the FDA approved the first human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Gardasil has been tested in more than 12,000 uninfected girls and women in 13 countries. Studies show it provides nearly 100% protection against HPV-16 and HPV-18, the viruses that cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against HPV-6 and HPV-11, which cause 90% of cases of genital warts.
Gardasil is approved for girls and women ages 9 - 26. Current immunization guidelines recommend:
The HPV vaccine can only prevent -- not treat -- HPV infection, genital warts, and cervical cancer. Because the vaccine cannot protect females who are already infected with HPV, doctors recommend that girls get vaccinated before they become sexually active. Studies indicate that the vaccine is nearly 100% effective in preventing cervical cancer and genital warts (caused by the HPV types covered in the vaccine) when given prior to HPV exposure. However, young women who are sexually active may still derive some benefit from the vaccine, at least for protection against any of the four HPV strains that they have not yet acquired.
The FDA is considering approving another type of cervical cancer vaccine (Cervarix). Cervarix protects against HPV-16 and HPV-18, as well as the cancer-causing strains HPV-31 and HPV-45. It does not protect against genital warts.
The FDA is not yet sure how long Gardasil‚ ' s protection lasts or when patients may need a booster shot.
These vaccines do not protect against all types of cancer-causing HPV. The FDA still recommends that women receive regular screening to detect any early signs of cervical cancer. For girls and women who have been sexually active before they receive the vaccine, screening still provides the best protection against cervical cancer.
Condoms provide some protection against HPV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.
Regular Pap tests are the most effective way to catch cervical cancer when it is still in its earliest stages. Women over age 30 may also want to have an HPV test along with their Pap smear. [For more information, see "Diagnosis and Screening" section of this report.]
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