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Stop! Reading this page could save your life. I'm not kidding.

There's nothing more important to me than the well-being of the millions of girls who read GL. That's why I want to tell you about the biggest health breakthrough for young women since we started this magazine in 1994. This summer, the FDA approved a vaccine called Gardasil. What's Gardasil? It's a course of three shots. Why is it so important? It's the first vaccine ever that helps protect you against cancer.

A shot that keeps you from getting cancer? That's pretty amazing! So why aren't people shouting it from the rooftops? One simple reason: The type of cancer it protects you from is cervical cancer. And the way it protects you from cervical cancer is by helping stop the spread of a serious sexually transmitted disease, HPV. In other words, if your doctor or parents are going to talk to you about this, they're probably going to need to talk to you about being sexually active and STDs. And that ain't easy.

Gardasil works best if you get the shots before you become sexually active. According to researchers, 25 percent of American girls will have sex by the time they are 15. And I'd bet roughly 100 percent of parents wish their daughters would wait longer to have sex for the first time, but those statistics are reality. And having to face reality is keeping lots of parents from discussing the importance of this vaccine with their daughters. Still, it could keep you from being one of the thousands of women who die from cervical cancer each year, and the tens of thousands more who have to undergo biopsies, surgeries and treatment.

I know firsthand how life-changing cervical cancer can be. I am one of the women who was fortunate enough to have it caught early and to live. If there's ever a moment when you feel you have your whole life ahead of you, it's when you're three weeks from graduating college. I went to see my doctor for my usual visit and got a routine PAP smear, the cervical cancer screening test that has saved millions of lives. A couple days later, I got the call. "There's a problem," the doctor said, "You have pre-cancerous cells. We need to get you in here right away." I couldn't believe it. It seemed like a bad joke. For the next few years, I endured more medical procedures than I care to remember. But, thanks to my team, I came through the experience with my health intact. That's why it doubly matters to me that you talk to your parents and doctor about Gardasil. Lots of adults I have talked to about this don't feel the need to bring Gardasil up. Many have said, "My daughter is only 12! She's not sexually active" Hey, I sure as heck hope not. I am as big a fan of delaying sexual activity and promoting abstinence as anyone. But, one day, you will become sexually active--that's just a fact. And another fact is that every year, more than 6 million American teens and young adults become infected with HPV. Gardasil is our best chance to wipe this virus out and wipe out cervical cancer.

As you get older, you'll face more and more decisions that you (not your parents) will have to make about your life. Hopefully, as you make those choices, your parents will be there to love you and support you in every way. This might be the first time you take the initiative. If they haven't already, help your parents talk to you about Gardasil. Leave this page on your mom's pillow. Go online and do research. Get your doctor to talk to your parents with you at your next checkup.

In the not-so-distant future, your life could depend on it.
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Title Annotation:Gardasil for cervical cancer
Author:Bokram, Karen
Publication:Girls' Life
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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