September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness month. This is a national recognition established by the Foundation for Women’s Cancer in 1999. For over 50 years routine pap smears have helped screen for cervical cancer and help reduce the morbidity and mortality from cervical cancer by 70%.
With the widespread use of Gardasil and improved screening fewer women will develop both pre-cancer and cervical cancer. Gardasil is an amazing and effective vaccine that protects against the four most common strains of human papilloma virus. These strains are 16, 11, 18 and 6. These four strains account for 70 % of all cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts.
Gardasil is given over a 6 month period in girls ranging from age 9-26. It has been recently approved for women up to age 44 and for boys age 9-26.
Gardasil 9 has recently been approved for the prevention of various diseases caused by HPV. Gardasil 9 offers the same protection against the four strains that the original Gardasil protects against. In addition, Gardasil 9 offers protection against 5 more high risk HPV types-31, 33, 45 and 52. Thus with the addition of Gardasil 9 90% of genital warts can be prevented as well as offering 90% prevention of cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancer.
Some recent guidelines about how often to get a pap smear are as followed:
- Women between ages 21-29 should have a pap smear every 3 years
- Women between ages 30-64 should have both a pap and HPV test every 5 years or a pap every 3 years
- Women over age 65 should inquire with their gynecologist as to the necessity of a pap smear
According to the Center for Disease Control 79 million women living in the United States will become infected with the HPV Virus.
With the growing awareness by both patients and health care providers regarding Gardasil, and adequate Pap smear screening, I remain hopeful that one day in the near future, cervical cancer can be eradicated.