U.S. regulators have expanded the use of pharmaceutical company Merck’s cervical cancer vaccine to adults up to age 45, according to a new report from The Associated Press.
Approved in time for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the vaccine was previously only for preteens and young adults through 26.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil 9 for women and men through 45. The vaccine protects against the human papilloma virus, or HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, certain other cancers and genital warts.
The virus is very common and is spread through sexual contact. In most cases, HPV doesn’t cause any problems, but some infections persist and can eventually lead to cancer if untreated.
“If we want to eradicate this disease or the instances of cervical cancer, we need to eliminate HPV,” Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an expert in women’s health, told WTOP. “That’s why it’s so important for women to get their pap starting at the age of 21 … but also pap and HPV testing between the ages of 30-65.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 14 million people, mostly teens and young adults, are newly infected with HPV each year.
There is a an even larger disparity for cervical cancer among African-American women than originally thought, according to an article by the American Cancer Society published in the health journal Cancer.
Dr. Anna L. Beavis, the study’s author, and others wanted to determine the age-standardized and age-specific annual cervical cancer mortality rates in the U.S. after correcting for the prevalence of hysterectomy.
Their goal was to evaluate age and race disparities, according to Nurse.com.
“For Black women, the corrected mortality rate was 10.1 per 100,000 (95 percent confidence interval [CI], 9.6-10.6), whereas the uncorrected rate was 5.7 per 100,000 (95% CI, 5.5-6.0),” the researchers wrote in the study. “The corrected rate for White women was 4.7 per 100,000 (95% CI, 4.6-4.8), whereas the uncorrected rate was 3.2 per 100,000 (95% CI, 3.1-3.2).”
Researchers gathered county mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
“A correction for hysterectomy has revealed that cervical cancer mortality rates are underestimated, particularly in Black women,” the researchers wrote. “The highest rates are seen in the oldest Black women, and public health efforts should focus on appropriate screening and adequate treatment in this population.”
Still, the approval of HPV vaccine Gardasil is a positive step, experts said.
Gardasil was originally approved for girls in 2006 and later for boys, partly to reduce the spread of HPV to girls, according to AP.
While Gardasil was approved for ages 9 through 26, the shots are especially recommended for boys and girls at ages 11 or 12, before they first have sex and could get infected.
About half of U.S. teens now have had two or three doses, AP reported.
Company testing done in older adults showed the vaccine also worked for them. In women 24 through 45, the original Gardasil was about 90 percent effective three years after a third dose was administered.
The latest version of Gardasil protects against nine strains of HPV, four more than the original.
According to the CDC, about 33,700 women and men are diagnosed with a cancer caused by an HPV infection each year, including 12,000 women with cervical cancer, which kills about 4,000 annually.
Merck said the list price for Gardasil 9 is $205 per dose. Two doses are needed for those vaccinated before 15, while three are recommended for older people.
Cervical cancer occurs when the cells lining the cervix begin to grow out of control. An individual’s health care provider will perform a pelvic examination and a Pap smear to take cells from the cervix, which are then tested for abnormalities.
The District provides free breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic follow-update for eligible women through Project Women Into Staying Healthy (WISH).
Project WISH also provides patient navigation, transportation assistance and cancer education to all women enrolled in the project.
District of Columbia women who are uninsured and underinsured and between the ages of 21 and 64 are eligible for Project WISH. Call 202-442-5900 for more information.
For more information about free prevention, screening and health services, call the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (CCCP) at 202-442-9170.