The Korea Herald
December 12, 2010
Lee, a 30-year-old office worker, learned about the vaccine for cervical cancer last year when she received a breast cancer checkup.
However, she said she just ignored it because “the price was high and it took almost six months to complete the three-dose schedule.”
“Among other things, I heard the vaccine is effective only in young girls who have not had sexual intercourse,” said Lee, who got married two years ago.
Knowing that early detection is most important in fighting cancer, many Korean women are receiving regular checkups for “female cancers” such as breast, thyroid and cervical cancer.
However, few of them know that cervical cancer is the only cancer that is preventable through vaccinations and that women in almost all age groups are likely to get much benefit from the vaccine.
In the 1970s, German virologist Harald zur Hausen verified the connection between cervical cancer and human papillomavirus, or HPV.
Gardasil, made by Merck, then became the first HPV vaccine to get approval from the U.S. FDA in 2006. TIME magazine picked the vaccine as one of the best inventions of that year.
Currently, two vaccines ― Gardasil and Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline ― are available on the market.
Until recently, the vaccine was recommended for women up to age 26 and girls as young as nine, the age groups in which the vaccine’s clinical trials were conducted and who were considered to be less exposed to the sexually-transmitted HPV virus. A 2009 Lancet study found that 92 percent of the women ages between 18 and 25 were not infected with the virus even though they had had sex.
However, the state-run National Cancer Center also conducted a similar study on 4,595 Korean women in their 20s to 60s. Of them, 90 percent didn’t have the virus, which indicates that the vaccine can still be effective for nine out of 10 women across this age range.
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