Two recent pieces of news will change how we protect ourselves from the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus: The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the Gardasil vaccine in boys and men ages 9 to 26, and a new HPV vaccine, Cervarix, for girls and women ages 10 to 25. What this means is that HPV infections may drop precipitously, with both boys and girls getting vaccinated. It also means that girls and women will have a choice between two vaccines.
With regard to Cervarix, I think it's intriguing that women now have a choice between two vaccines against HPV, each of which has different advantages. Both vaccines protect against two virus strains, HPV 16 and 18, which are responsible for about 75 percent of cervical cancers. And both are administered in three doses.
While some news reports predict that Gardasil will remain the vaccine of choice, I'm not so sure. With its three-year head start on the U.S. market, Gardasil is certainly better known to doctors and women. It also has the advantage of protecting against two HPV strains responsible for 90 percent of genital warts—which can cause itching and burning but not cancer. Cervarix, while it doesn't protect against these warts, offers some protection against another HPV strain. According to the manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, Cevarix is about 89 percent effective in preventing precancerous lesions caused by HPV type 31, the third most common cervical-cancer-causing strain, behind 16 and 18. It's a personal choice women will have to make on their own, although I'm guessing their decision may be influenced by multimillion dollar ad campaigns. Merck, manufacturer of Gardasil, already has ads on the airwaves, and I'm curious how Cervarix will be sold to women. Choose added cancer protection over freedom from warts?