Doctors step up efforts to vaccinate young women against virus that causes the disease
FRIDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time, a doctor's arsenal now includes a vaccine that can actually prevent cancer.
Gardasil targets human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer and is present in one in four American women.
And health-care providers are beginning to integrate that vaccine into the schedule of other immunizations that children receive during childhood and adolescence.
About 13 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed globally since its approval in June 2006, said Kelley Dougherty, director of public affairs for Merck & Co., the company that created Gardasil. Of those, 10.5 million doses have been distributed in the United States.
"We estimate between 3 to 5 million girls have been vaccinated with Gardasil, but that is a very rough estimate," Dougherty said.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 11,150 new cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2007, and 3,670 women died from the disease.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death for U.S. women, but the death rate declined by 74 percent between 1955 and 1992. That was largely due to increased use of the Pap test, which can detect cellular changes in the cervix before cancer develops, the cancer society says.
"Women for so many years have heard the message that they need Pap tests, it's almost equivalent to seeing a gynecologist," said Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancers for the American Cancer Society. "I think for breast exams, many women wait for their doctor to recommend it, whereas for the Pap test, they're more likely to go get one."
The death rate from cervical cancer continues to decline by almost 4 percent a year, thanks to the Pap test.
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