As people become more sexually active, the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease continues to rise. For women, viruses that affect the genital area have been linked to cervical cancer.
Just the word cancer usually causes fear, but there are some new developments in the fight against cervical cancer and human papillomavirus.
A new vaccine has been developed and is now being administered to patients to prevent cervical cancer in women and a few other HPV types.
“Twenty million people have the virus in the United States and 60 percent of sexually active people catch HPV during their lifetime,” said Klotz Student Health Center staff physician Samia Boctor. “So there is a very high number of infections with HPV.”
The HPV vaccine is called Gardasil and prevents cervical cancer, genital warts and infections that contain specific types of HPV. Gardasil does not treat these infections and conditions but it does help prevent them. It also does not help protect against other diseases that are not caused by HPV.
“Gardasil is a vaccine against HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18,” said Judith Sanchez, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at King Drew Medical Center. “There are probably 15 types of HPV. HPV 6 and 11 are responsible for warts and HPV 16 and 18 are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers.”
There is hope for college students in the fight against HPV.
“We have the vaccine here at the health center,” Boctor said. “It would certainly help college students and it is in three doses.”
The vaccine is given over a six-month period and administered in three doses. The second dose is administered two months after the first dose and the third dose is administered six months after the first dose. It is vital to be administered all three doses to get the full benefits of the vaccine.
The vaccine has not been licensed for males yet, but could be after more research is done on the effects of the vaccine on men. It has only been approved for girls and women from the ages of nine through 26. Physicians recommend that young girls start the vaccine at an early age when they have not had any sexual activity. On the other hand, females who are sexually active should still be vaccinated to protect themselves against diseases and infections if they have not already been infected.
“I think it’s important to give the vaccine to girls at a young age,” Sanchez said. “They need to give them the vaccine before girls have been exposed to the disease and before they have sex.”
Longevity of protection with the vaccine is still uncertain because the vaccine is new.
“I am conservative about the vaccine because I still need to be convinced about it,” said Sue Suthanuwong, a nurse practitioner at King Drew Medical Center. “To me it is still too soon to comment on the vaccine because the vaccine is fairly new.”
Cervical cancer affects the cervix, which is the upper part of the uterus and connects the lower part of the uterus and the vagina. It is a serious condition that can be life-threatening. In 2005, an estimation of 10,370 new cases was diagnosed in the United States alone, according to the American Cancer Society.
HPV consists of viruses that affect both males and females in the genital area. Some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer and other types are harmless. The harmless types of HPV that do not cause any symptoms go away on their own.