New cervical cancer vaccine won't replace Pap tests

BOSTON, MA — Over the past 30 years, the number of cervical cancer deaths in the United States has dropped by half to 4,000 deaths a year. The main reason for the decrease is the Pap test, which screens for the disease. Now cervical cancer prevention has entered a new era, with the FDA's recent approval of a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV). Scientists believe certain strains of this virus cause nearly all cervical cancers. Although the vaccine promises to save lives, it won't make Pap tests unnecessary, reports the September issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all 11- and 12-year-old American girls get the shots, although girls as young as 9 could receive it if they're sexually active. For "catch-up," the CDC also recommends that girls and women ages 13–26 be vaccinated.

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