Cervical cancer vaccines and treatments

May 2, 2011

Two vaccines protect against the virus that can cause cervical cancer: Gardasil, approved in 2006 by the Food and Drug Administration, and Cervarix, approved in 2009.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccines are recommended for girls, usually around age 11 or 12, and for women up to age 26 who didn’t get the three doses required for full vaccination when they were younger. In 2009, the FDA also approved Gardasil for boys and men ages 9 to 26 to prevent genital warts.

While some parents have expressed concern about the vaccine because it is relatively new, many doctors say it’s safe and effective. According to the CDC, about 33 million doses of Gardasil had been distributed nationally as of mid-February this year, and 18,354 reports had been made to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System about that vaccine.

Most were minor problems such as fainting and pain at the injection site, but 8 percent were considered serious, such as blood clots and Guillain-Barre syndrome. The CDC stressed that these problems may or may not have been caused by the shots.

“If everyone had the vaccine, that would stamp [cervical cancer] out,” said A. Bennett Jenson, a physician who helped invent the vaccine. “We could cure it like polio.”


Complaints about the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil include a few that were deemed serious. (J B Reed/Bloomberg News)

 Treatment for cervical cancer depends on how far disease has progressed. Women with limited, noninvasive disease typically only need treatment to remove the abnormal area of cells through such procedures as cone biopsy, laser surgery, or freezing and killing cancerous and precancerous cells. These procedures may be done in a doctor’s office. More-aggressive cases, where the cancer has progressed, may need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of all three.

Laura Unger

SOURCES: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Food and Drug Administration; MayoClinic.com

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