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- October 24, 2005
- Vol. 64
- No. 17
A Vaccine for Cancer?
Good News: a New Shot May Protect Women from Most Cervical Cancers
A: Cervical cancer—which kills some 3,700 American women a year—is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. The vaccine blocks the two types of HPV that most often develop into cancer.
Q: Will it work for all women?
A: The vaccine, which may get FDA approval by late 2006, could be helpful for any female who is or plans to be sexually active. The three-shot series may also prevent hard-to-treat genital warts.
Q: When is the best time to be vaccinated?
A: Optimally, before becoming sexually active—even in adolescence—since 80 percent of women will in time be infected with HPV. Although most show no symptoms and develop a natural immunity, some 10,400 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Q: What if I have already been infected with HPV?
A: The vaccine will not reverse infections you already have, but it may stop new ones, says Dr. Eliav Barr, who heads the vaccine research for Merck & Co.
Q: How long does the shot last?
A: Unclear. In tests, women remained protected for 3½ years. Scientists will follow up to see if a booster is needed.
Q: Does this mean the end of Pap smears?
A: No. Strains of HPV that this vaccine does not prevent still account for 30 percent of cervical cancers, so women will need to get screened at least once every three years.
January 30, 2015
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