(CBS) Doctors have a new weapon in the war on cancer, now that the FDA has green-lighted a vaccine to prevent anal cancer caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
The Gardasil HPV vaccine, made by Merck, is approved for children and young adults between the ages of nine and 26.
Anal cancer, the disease that did in actress Farrah Fawcett in 2009, is rare but on the rise. This year, there have been about 5,300 new cases and about 700 deaths - and about nine out of 10 of cases are caused by HPV.
If those three letters sound familiar, there's a reason: HPV is the same sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical and vaginal cancer in women and genital warts in both sexes.
In addition to infection with HPV, risk factors for anal cancer include being over age 50, having many sexual partners, having anal sex, and smoking, according to the National Cancer Institute.
"Treatment for anal cancer is challenging; the use of Gardasil as a method of prevention is important as it may result in fewer diagnoses and the subsequent surgery, radiation or chemotherapy that individuals need to endure," Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a written statement released by the agency.
Prevention is critical for anal cancer, as there is no standardized screening recommendation for the general population.