HPV virus (Human Papilloma Virus) is a group of over 100 viruses, that affect skin cells and mucous membranes in humans. There is an association between being infected with these viruses and developing cervical cancer. Some strains of the virus also cause genital warts and may increase the risk of developing oral and anal cancers.
HPV was first discovered when researchers noticed that the only group of women that did not develop cervical cancer were celibate nuns. A sexually transmitted cause of cervical cancer was hypothesized, and research discovered the family of viruses.
Most women that contract the virus are able to clear it from their body within 1-2 years. If you cannot clear the virus, or have ongoing exposure to it, over time the virus can cause normal cells to turn cancerous, both in the cervix as well as the vagina. Pap smears not only can detect cancerous and precancerous cells, but can also detect the presence of the HPV virus.
Gardasil is a vaccine that helps your body to defend against 4 strains of HPV. Types 16 and 18 are associated with cervical cancer. Types 6 and 11 are 2 strains that cause genital warts. The vaccine is over $200 per dose and requires 3 doses. Not all that start the series finish it, either because of cost issues, side effects or non-compliance. The overall effective rate of protection from cancer is probably less than 50%, and may be as low as 17% if all that start the series, but do not complete it are included. Also one must remember that there are other strains that can cause cancer, that are not in the vaccine. It is recommended for girls as young as 11, up to age 26. It is now also recommended for boys, with the theory, that if HPV is decreased in boys and men, that the rate of infection in women will decline. There is some weak data that says that anal and oral cancers in homosexual men may decrease from the vaccine.
There is a push in many states to make this a mandatory vaccine. I think the long term data is not known, the actual benefits are probably much less than that reported, and the possibility exists, that if by some way we eliminate types 16 and 18, that another strain may become the new prevalent strain, and could be as bad or worse. What if there were 100 strains of small pox, and our vaccine prevented only 4 strains? Isn't it reasonable that another strain may emerge?
We have a wonderful way to prevent cervical cancer, already. The pap smear. Yet, we used to recommend your first pap at age 18, or when you became sexually active. The new recommendation is now age 21, regardless. Why is that? Money. The rationale is, it may take 3-5 years of infection before there are pap smear abnormalities, so lets turn a blind eye when someone is having unprotected sex at age 16. Don't do an exam, don't educate, let them get HPV, and worry about it later. On a similar note (rant to follow)!…very quietly, under president Obama, the starting age for mammogram was moved from age 40 to 50. Why? Because it cost too much money to save the lives of women in their 40s who developed breast cancer. There aren't enough to justify the cost. When there was an outrage over this recommendation, it was rolled back to 40.
If you think Obama care and universal healthcare wont have rationing and worse services for the majority, think again. When the government tells you that your 11 year old daughter can't go to school unless she is vaccinated for HPV. Or that you must give your infant the Hepatitis vaccine because the government doesn't know if they will grow up to be an IV drug user, or when a new lung cancer drug is prevented from coming to market, because it is $50,000 more than existing therapy, and "only" improves survival by 6-12 months over existing therapy. Beware.