Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death in women after breast cancer. The disease is spread by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV.) 493,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and will kill 274,000 people. The chances of contracting the virus are 30% within the first year of sexual activity for women and by age 50, approximately 80% of women have the virus.
Most people who contract the virus do not contract cervical cancer, but the HPV virus is one of the most widely spread sexually transmitted diseases and can cause genital warts. The new cervical cancer vaccine, called Gadrasil, made by Merck does not protect against all cervical cancer types but is according to WebMD 100% effective against the weakend HPV strains contained in the vaccination. . Another cervical cancer vaccine called Cervarix is also being researched.
Certain types of HPV virus are known to cause cervical cancer in women, but men can also contract the HPV virus as well. In both sexes the virus can cause certain types of cancer or warts. The human immune system will clear up most cases of an HPV infection, but in other people the disease lingers which causes longer term problems.
The initial research needed to develop a cervical cancer vaccine started in the 1980s, but it took over twenty years for Merck to develop Gadrasil and get it approved. Despite the usefulness and widespread nature of the HPV virus, the cervical cancer vaccine despite its somewhat misleading name has faced challenges. Women in poorer countries do not have easy access to health care and some religious groups have challenged opposed requirements in some states that the cervical cancer vaccine be offered. Young women should be given the cervical cancer vaccine which is a series of three shots between the ages of 9 and 26. (It is assumed after the age of 26 that if a teenager or young adult has been sexually active she has likely already come into contract with the virus.)
The cervical cancer vaccine may not prevent all cervical cancers and it will not affect women over the age cutoff who may have already contracted the virus, but the makers of the vaccine hope that like smallpox the disease can be added to the list of diseases that humanity has managed to wipe out. The cervical cancer vaccine may have a number of religious and societal hurdles to overcome before it being a thing of the past becomes anything more than a dream.