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HEALTH REPORT - Cervical Cancer Vaccine Moves Toward U.S. Approval

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I'm Barbara Klein with the VOA Special English Health Report.

A Merck research factory in Rahway, New Jersey
A Merck research factory in Rahway, New Jersey

A vaccine to protect against cervical cancer has moved toward approval in the United States. The drug company Merck developed the vaccine, called Gardasil. A federal advisory committee accepted Merck's findings that Gardasil is safe and effective for females age nine to twenty-six.

A final decision from the Food and Drug Administration is expected by June eighth.

The World Health Organization says almost half a million women each year develop cervical cancer. More than half of them die from it. Cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in women in developing countries.

Gardasil is designed to protect against infection with human papillomavirus, or HPV. The vaccine blocks two kinds of HPV that experts say are responsible for seventy percent of all cervical cancers. The vaccine is also designed to protect against two other forms that cause most cases of genital warts.

HPV is a common infection among sexually active people. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Experts say most cases go away within a few years. Many people never show signs of infection.

But in some people, the virus remains for many years. And in some women it can lead to cervical cancer.

The new vaccine does not prevent all forms of HPV linked to cervical cancer. And it is not a replacement for medical examinations.

Experts say a yearly Pap test is the best way to find cervical cancer cells early, when they can be treated most successfully. The test has sharply reduced rates of cervical cancer in the United States and other countries where it is widely used.

Merck says Gardasil is effective for at least five years. It says the vaccine works best in those who are not yet sexually active.

The company is also testing Gardasil in boys and men.

The vaccine is given in three injections over a six-month period. Gardasil is expected to cost three hundred to five hundred dollars. There are concerns that the price could limit its use. Also, some conservative groups have expressed concern that the vaccine could lead young people to become more sexually active.

Later this year, the drug maker GlaxoSmithKline plans to seek approval of a cervical cancer vaccine called Cervarix.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Barbara Klein.

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