Nation's premier cancer centers aim to eliminate HPV cancers
Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa has partnered with 69 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers urging increased HPV vaccination and screening to eliminate HPV-related cancers, starting with cervical cancer.
Nearly 80 million Americans—one out of every four people—are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). And of those millions, more than 31,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those large numbers and the availability of a vaccine to prevent the infections that cause these cancers, HPV vaccination rates remain low in the United States.
The statement from all 70 cancer centers is a recognition that insufficient vaccination is a public health threat and calls upon the nation’s physicians, parents, and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to eliminate several different types of cancer in men and women.
“Research has demonstrated that HPV vaccination can prevent the emergence of HPV-induced cancers. We owe it to our children and their children to apply this very effective approach to cancer prevention today to prevent pain and suffering from these cancers in the years ahead,” says George Weiner, MD, director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The NCI-designated cancer centers, including Holden, have joined together in endorsing this goal, and we look forward to working with the public health community to make it a reality.”
Vaccination rates remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the United States. According to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 50 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys completed the recommended vaccine series.
Barriers and opportunities
Research shows there are a number of barriers to overcome to improve vaccination rates, including a lack of strong recommendations from physicians, and parents not understanding that this vaccine protects against several types of cancer in men and women. HPV causes multiple cancers including cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat), and other genital cancers.
“We have the opportunity to eliminate multiple HPV-related cancers beginning with cervical cancer. To accomplish this goal, we need to utilize our most important tool—HPV vaccination,” says Anna R. Giuliano, Ph.D., director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center. “We are asking health care providers to stand with us and recommend the HPV vaccine. Parents can join with us by asking their doctors about vaccination.”
At a June 7-8 meeting in Salt Lake City, HPV experts from the nation’s top cancer centers, along with partners from the NCI, CDC, and the American Cancer Society, discussed strategies for eliminating cancers caused by HPV, including ways to reduce barriers to vaccination, as well as share education, training, and intervention strategies to improve vaccination rates.
This is the third year that all NCI-designated cancer centers have come together to issue a national call to action. All 70 cancer centers unanimously share the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents, and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.
Iowa’s work on behalf of HPV vaccination
University of Iowa investigators are beginning a yearlong study to better understand why HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine coverage in rural areas of the state lags behind other adolescent immunizations.
“Health experts say boys and girls can begin the vaccine series of two or three shots, spaced six months apart, after they turn nine-years old. The idea is to vaccinate well before they begin sexual activity.”—From KGAN-TV interview with UI Health Care pediatrician, Beth Tarini, MD, MS
NCI-Designated Cancer Centers Endorse Goal of Eliminating HPV-Related Cancers
An effective and safe vaccine is available that prevents the large majority of cancer-causing HPV infections. In addition, healthcare providers can use proven methods to screen for and treat cervical pre-cancers.
Unfortunately, HPV vaccination completion rates across the U.S. remain low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 49.5 percent of girls and only 37.5 percent of boys, ages 13-17 years, in the U.S. completed the vaccine series in 2016. These rates are significantly lower than those for other recommended adolescent vaccinations and fall well below the nation’s goal of 80 percent coverage by the end of this decade (U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthy People 2020 objective).
Increased HPV vaccination rates combined with appropriate cervical cancer screening measures could soon eliminate cervical cancer, with other HPV-related cancers in males and females to follow. Therefore, as national leaders in cancer research and cancer care, we issue the following Call to Action in alignment with nation’s Heathy People 2020 goals:
- Vaccination of more than 80 percent of males and females ages 13-15 by 2020;
- Screen 93 percent of age-eligible females for cervical cancer by 2020; and
- Provide prompt follow up and proper treatment of females who screen positive for high grade cervical pre-cancerous lesions.
In addition, we strongly encourage:
- Young men and women up to age 26, who were not previously vaccinated, to complete the recommended HPV vaccine series;
- Health care providers to make clear and strong recommendations for HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening; and
- The health care community to educate parents, guardians, community members, and colleagues about the goal of eliminating cancers caused by HPV in the US.
High HPV vaccination rates combined with cervical cancer screening and treatment will result in the elimination of cervical cancer in the near future and elimination of other HPV-related cancers thereafter.
The HPV vaccine prevents cancer. Make sure your loved ones are vaccinated and protected. More information is available from the CDC.