Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV) are a large group with 100+ subtypes that usually present as a self-limited infection. Certain HPV strains are known to be strongly associated with the genesis of cervical cancer, and similar mechanisms may apply to HPV+ cancers of the vulva, anus, and throat. Merck"s GARDASIL is a vaccine that was developed against known culprits HPV 6, 11, 16, 18. Three injections over six months are necessary for protection against infection by these subtypes which cause the majority of cervical cancer in the US. It is a pure preventive, not a targeted therapy. As such, it can't impact upon established disease.
So then, given the predominantly sexual mode of HPV transmission, the question now arises– how young should girls be at vaccination to allow for maximum benefit from this new intervention? The US trials have looked at girls as young as 9 years of age. As a doctor, starting them in the pre-sexual years makes great sense to me. As a parent in a conservative society, it gives me pause: Will our girls read an implicit message there?
Social norms, religious objections, parental desires aren't nearly as straightforward as science. There lies the rub.