Vaccine 'helps women up to 45'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2007, 12:00am

A cervical cancer vaccine originally intended for females from nine to 26 years old can also protect women up to age 45 against the deadly disease.

The vaccine Gardasil can prevent 91 per cent of infections of four types of human papillomavirus (HPV), including two that cause 70 per cent of all cervical cancer cases, interim results of a study have shown.

The study involved about 3,800 women aged between 24 and 45 worldwide. Gardasil, manufactured by US pharmaceuticals firm Merck & Co, was registered with the Department of Health in October last year.

The vaccine is especially for those who have not had sex and thus have not been infected by any HPV.

It can offer about 98 per cent protection against the four types of HPV infections. The manufacturer is also conducting a four-year study to test the efficacy of Gardasil on women between 24 and 45.

'The research will go on for another two years, but so far the research findings have already indicated that older women can have the vaccination, too,' said Cheung Tak-hong, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Prince of Wales Hospital. The vaccine involves three injections over six months. It costs about HK$1,500 per injection at a private clinic.

Keith Lo Wing-kit, an obstetrician at the hospital, said the vaccine could provide better protection against cervical cancer than Pap tests.

'The Department of Health mainly calls on women to have Pap tests regularly to identify any pathological changes that may develop into cervical cancer,' Dr Lo said. 'However, the test is actually for early detection and treatment rather than for prevention.'

Yet, he added that women who have had the vaccination should keep on taking Pap tests regularly because the vaccine could not completely prevent cervical cancer.

A department spokeswoman said Gardasil was approved in Hong Kong for ages nine to 26 as overseas clinical study data submitted during registration covered only this group.

'For administration to females outside the above age group, individual doctors will assume the professional responsibility of prescribing drugs outside the approved conditions,' she said.

Cervical data

Number of women newly diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2004: 493

Number of women who died of cervical cancer in 2004: 267

Source: Hospital Authority