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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
EU approves cervical cancer jab
Cervical cancer cells
Cancerous cervical cells are detected through smear tests
The European Union has approved the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, which could prevent nearly 3,000 cancers each year in the UK alone.

An independent expert advisory committee to the Department of Health will now decide whether it should be made available on the NHS.

Gardasil, made by Merck and Sanofi Pasteur, is designed to be given to girls and women aged nine to 26.

It works against human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer.

Gardasil protects against cervical cancer caused by HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18, and also against genital warts.

The vaccine has been in fierce competition with a rival from UK-based GlaxoSmithKline, called Cervarix, which is still a year off the European approval stage.

HPV

Around 80% of sexually active women can expect to have an HPV infection at some point in their lives.

The vaccines have caused controversy over plans to give it to girls as young as nine, before they become sexually active.

Boys could also be vaccinated in the hope of eventually eradicating HPV.

Cervical cancer kills 274,000 women worldwide every year, including 1,120 in the UK.

No decisions will be taken until the main JCVI present their recommendations to ministers for consideration
A Department of Health spokeswoman

Trials suggest vaccinating all 12-year-old girls against HPV could cut deaths from the disease by 75%.

Women will soon be able to go along to clinics and request the jab at a cost of around 65 per dose. Three doses are usually given over six months.

But it is not yet clear whether the vaccine will be available on the NHS.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are currently seeking expert advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on the efficacy, safety and benefits that these new vaccines may offer."

She said that a JCVI subgroup had met in May 2006 to review all available information on HPV vaccines and would hold further meetings during 2006, reporting to the main JCVI committee once they have all the relevant information.

"No decisions will be taken until the main JCVI present their recommendations to ministers for consideration," she added.

Smear tests still necessary

Doctors stress that the vast majority of HPV cases do not go on to cause cervical cancer.

Women can protect themselves against HPV by not having unprotected sex and not smoking. They are also advised to have regular smears to check for the virus.

Professor Alex Markham of Cancer Research UK said: "If a national vaccination programme is introduced it will be vital that women continue to attend for cervical smears.

"We don't yet know if the vaccines are effective in women who may already have been infected with HPV, nor how long the immunity given by the vaccines lasts."

Gardasil has already been approved for use in the US, Mexico, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

A spokesman from GSK said: "It's good news that the European authorities have approved it. This is the first of two vaccines that will be targeting cervical cancer. We hope to have a similar approval some time in the first half of 2007."




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