Gardasil is a vaccine that is used to prevent the spread of human papilloma virus (HPV).
This prophylactic vaccine cannot cure the HPV infection once it has occurred but it can prevent the infection in an un-infected person.
Since HPV is a common infection that affects most sexually active males and females at some point in their lives, the vaccine needs to be administered before children are mature enough to become sexually active.
If a person has already been infected with one of the HPV strains targeted by this vaccine (strains 6, 11, 16 and 18), they should still be vaccinated because Gardasil may still protect against other HPV strains.
In most countries, maximum vaccination efficacy is achieved by following recommendations that the vaccine be given before the onset of sexual activity, at around 9 to 12 years of age.
By preventing HPV infection, Gardasil protects against the development of long-term complications associated with HPV such as genital warts and changes in the cell lining of the cervix that can give rise to cancer. Anal cancer, vulvar cancer and throat cancer are also associated with HPV infection.
Despite its protective effects, Gardasil should not be considered as an alternative to the routine Pap smears that are performed to check women for cervical cancer and precancerous lesions of the cervix.
Gardasil cannot offer protection against all of the forms of cervical cancer that are caused by the various different HPV types. On the other hand, the risk of cervical cancer is very low among those who have been vaccinated with Gardasil before becoming sexually active.
As well as preventing cervical cancer, Gardasil reduces the costs associated with the work-ups and treatment of cervical cancer and precancer. It also prevents the infertility that can occur as a result of biopsies taken due to cervical cancer.
Furthermore, Gardasil reduces respiratory problems in babies that are infected with HPV by their mothers. Gardasil has also been shown to protect against anal cancer and head and neck cancers (especially oropharyngeal squamous-cell carcinoma – a throat cancer caused by HPV type 16).
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc