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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Cervarix®, a vaccine against two high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), for prevention of cervical cancer and cervical precancers. This is the second HPV vaccine to be approved in the United States.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) consist of more than 100 different viruses. Some types of HPV cause warts on the hands or feet; others cause genital warts; and some have been linked with cancer, most notably cervical cancer. The types of HPV most commonly linked with cervical cancer are HPV 16 and HPV 18, but several other high-risk types contribute to cancer as well.

The types of HPV that cause cervical cancer or genital warts are transmitted sexually. HPV infection is extremely common and generally occurs soon after an individual becomes sexually active. Although most infections resolve on their own, some persist and can lead to precancerous or cancerous changes to the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, and anus. HPV infections have also been linked with some head and neck cancers.

The first HPV vaccine to be approved in the U.S. was Gardasil, which protects against HPV types 6 and 11 (which are linked to genital warts) as well as the cancer-associated types 16 and 18. Cervarix also protects against HPV types 16 and 18. Both Gardasil and Cervarix are intended to prevent infection with certain types of HPV; these vaccines do not treat existing HPV infections or cervical abnormalities. It’s also important to keep in mind that these vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV; women who are vaccinated should continue to be screened for cervical cancer.

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Cervarix was approved for the prevention of cervical pre-cancers and cervical cancer associated with HPV types 16 and 18. It was approved for use in girls and women between the ages of 10 and 25 years. The vaccine, is given in three doses over a six-month period.

Reference: GSK. FDA approves Cervarix, GlaxoSmithKline’s cervical cancer vaccine. Available at: