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Pap smear is necessary

February 23, 2009

Re "1 in 4 teens got cervical cancer vaccine in '07," Feb. 18

Gardasil, the cervical cancer vaccine, has been widely accepted in California, but it is not 100% effective.

Most cervical cancers are caused by a very common sexually transmitted infection -- the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than a dozen high-risk strains of HPV capable of causing cervical cancer, but the vaccine only protects against four strains of HPV, two of which are known to cause 70% of cervical cancer cases. What about the 30% of cancer cases not covered?

For decades, Pap smears have been used to routinely check for any abnormal cervical changes, and have dramatically reduced cervical cancer deaths. Even if a woman is vaccinated with Gardasil, she must continue her yearly Pap smear. Is it really worth the inconvenience, expense and possible side effects of vaccination when you're not fully protected?

Germaine Wensley RN

Playa del Rey

The writer is secretary, California Nurses for Ethical Standards.

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