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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Women for the first time have a vaccine to protect themselves against cervical cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday licensed the vaccine, Gardasil, for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26. The vaccine works by preventing infection by four of the dozens of strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease.
By age 50, some 80 percent of women have been infected.
Gardasil protects against the two types of HPV responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The vaccine also blocks infection by two other strains responsible for 90 percent of genital wart cases. The vaccine will be available by the end of the month, with a three-shot series costing $360.
Its manufacturer, Merck & Co. Inc., seeks similar approval elsewhere around the world. Each year, cervical cancer kills an estimated 240,000 women worldwide, including 3,700 in the United States.
The vaccine is expected to be approved quickly for use in Israel. Dr. Boaz Lev, deputy director of the Health Ministry, called the vaccine "goundbreaking."
In an interview to Army Radio, Lev hailed the drug as an "important step forward" and said that its development was very good news for a large percentage of women.
The FDA said that Gardasil appeared very safe. It remains unclear if its effect is long-lasting or if women will need booster shots later in life. Merck will monitor its long-term effectiveness. The company also continues to study whether the vaccine is safe and effective in males.
The vaccine does not eliminate the need for regular Pap tests, which can detect precancerous lesions and early cancer. Merck has said Gardasil could cut the number of abnormal Pap results due to HPV infection.