By: Scot Ackerman, M.D.
Gardasil first received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2006. The vaccine was the first of its kind developed for the prevention of cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18, as well as genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11.
The FDA has now granted approval for Gardasil 9, a new vaccine that offers expanded protection against HPV. In addition to the four types of HPV covered by Gardasil, the new vaccine is also effective in preventing high-risk HPV types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.
Like the original vaccine, Gardasil 9 is recommended for boys and girls beginning at 11 or 12 years old. While men and women can receive Gardasil until age 26, Gardasil 9 is approved for males from ages 9 to 15 and for females from ages 9 to 26. The vaccine is administered in three separate shots and has been determined to be 97 percent effective. The FDA recommends that those who have already received Gardasil talk to their healthcare providers to see if Gardasil 9 may be right for them.
While this new vaccine demonstrates a great advance in cancer prevention, routine screenings such as Pap smears are still a crucial part of women's healthcare. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that over half of women diagnosed with cervical cancer had never, or rarely, been screened for the disease. According to the federal report, an estimated 8 million women aged 21 to 65 have not been screened for cervical cancer in the past five years.
Due in part to lack of screening, Hispanic and African-American women were found to have higher cervical cancer rates. Regionally, the South boasts the most alarming statistics, claiming the nation’s highest cervical cancer rate, highest rate of death from cervical cancer, and the largest percentage of women who have never been screened.
Cervical cancer screening is an essential part of a woman’s routine health care. I encourage all sexually active women up to age 64 who have not undergone a hysterectomy to schedule a Pap smear in 2015. Most screenings are conducted at three-year intervals, but women should create a personal screening schedule with their individual gynecologists.
For more information about cervical cancer, visit Ackerman Cancer Center's Gynecological Cancer Conditions page.