January 22, 2008 / 12:37 PM / in 11 years

Cervical cancer vaccine cost-effective: EU agency

LONDON (Reuters) - The vaccine against the sexually transmitted virus that causes the most cases of cervical cancer is cost-effective and should be given to adolescent girls before they start having sex, an EU agency said on Tuesday.

Cervical cancer cells are seen in a handout photo from the National Cancer Instititute. REUTERS/NCI/Handout

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a report that Merck & Co Inc’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Cervarix vaccines could best help reduce cervical cancer when used with screening programs.

“We are saying the vaccine is probably cost effective and should be given to girls before they start their sexual life,” Johan Giesecke, the agency’s chief scientist, said in a telephone interview.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus and is the second most common type of cancer in women. The disease kills 300,000 each year, mostly in developing countries.

Five EU countries — Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy — have introduced the vaccination into their national health programs and most are considering it, Giesecke said.

The report offers guidance to those member states considering a vaccine and also urges countries already using it to ensure women do not let down their guard and skip screening.

This is important because the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the human papilloma virus, Giesecke added.

“If you get infected before you get the vaccine, it (the vaccine) really doesn’t help,” he said. “We also don’t know how long immunity lasts because the vaccines are quite new.”

The report, requested by the European Commission and several member states, recommended that girls receive the vaccine between the ages of 12-15 and said delivering the vaccines in schools would likely be the most cost-effective option.

It also said “catch-up” programs for slightly older girls could also be helpful in getting the most benefits out of the vaccine.

Reporting by Michael Kahn

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