Friday, July 17, 2009

The Scoop On: Gardasil

With all of the worries about the H1N1 vaccine this fall, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the other vaccine available in your doctor's office - Gardasil, the HPV vaccine featured in the ubiquitous commercials.

This vaccine protects against certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Gardasil doesn’t protect you from all of the types of HPV - there are over 100 in all (and that would be a mighty big injection). About 60 types of HPV cause common skin warts (plantar, hand); around 40 affect your genitals and are sexually transmitted (through both inter- and “outer”-course). Only a few of the genital types are considered “high risk” and can cause cancer. Gardasil is effective against four types of HPV: two of the types cause 90% of all genital warts; the other two strains cause 70% of cervical cancer cases.

Gardasil is given in three doses over 6 months and is FDA-approved for girls and women ages 9-26 years old. This means that your insurance company is likely to cover it only until you’re 26. While Gardasil may offer protection for women older than 26, the vaccine hasn’t been tested in them, so it’s not officially approved for that use. Plus, women who are in their 30s and 40s have a decreased chance of acquiring the virus - their cervix is a bit more resistant, and their partners (if of the same age) are less likely to carry the virus. But I have several patients older than 26 who have wanted to pay out of pocket for the vaccine, and I’ve gladly obliged. If you're still sexually active with new partners at any age, the vaccine is likely a good idea - there's no other cancer that you can actually get a vaccine against.

Have any of you run into trouble getting Gardasil because of cost or your age?

Photo credit: kelsey*

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