Knoxville (WVLT) The first national estimate of how many women are infected with the virus that causes cervical cancer is higher than previously thought.
One in four US women ages 14 to 59 is infected with human pappiloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease.
Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard takes a closer look at the numbers and how a new HPV vaccine could save lives.
The overall HPV prevalence among the youngest women studied, 14 to 24 year olds, was substantially higher than previous estimates, by nearly 45 percent.
Enter Gardasil, which is approved for girls and women ages 9 to 26.
There are dozens of strains of HPV.
Low risk strains often clear without treatment, but several high risk forms have been found to cause cervical cancer.
CDC researchers say they expected the prevalence of HPV to be high, and that's what they found.
Ob-gyn Dr. Emily Evitt says the new estimates are in line with the number of patients she treats with HPV.
"That most women do not have any symptoms of HPV and the only way to pick up this problem is to see your gynecologist and have an annual pap smear."
But, now, some strains can be prevented.
A new vaccine, Merck's Gardasil, was approved last June.
It protects against two HPV strains believed responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and two other strains that cause 90 percent of genital wart cases.
"In the majority of young women, those abnormalities go away completely on their own, due to your immune system responding to the HPV virus."
But, an estimated 11,150 US women will be diagnosed this year with cervical cancer, and about 3,670 will die.
Already one state, Texas, is making the Gardasil vaccine mandatory for all girls entering the sixth grade.
A US government panel has recommended the the vaccine be given to 11 and 12 year old girls, but says those vaccinations should not be mandatory.
"It's very unfortunate to see women with cervix cancer, because as a gynecologist you know that that was a very treatable condition at one point in that woman's life."
Comparatively, cervical cancer rates and deaths are relatively low in the US.
Numbers are much high worldwide, especially in developing countries where pap tests to detect cervical cancer are not routine.
HPV prevalence is also thought to be high in men, but none were studied in this first national estimate.
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