The country's 69 NCI-designated cancer centers have issued a joint statement that calls for increasing the national HPV vaccination rate—which is low compared with many other countries—as the most effective way to prevent a large number of HPV-related cancers.
All 69 NCI-designated cancer centers issued a joint statement at the end of January urging health care providers to encourage vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV causes the majority of cervical, anal, vaginal, penile, vulvar, and oropharyngeal cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 79 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with HPV. The FDA has approved three safe and effective HPV vaccines to ward off most HPV-related cancers. However, the vaccination rate in the United States stands at about 30% (40% for girls and 21% for boys), which is not only significantly lower than many other countries—including Australia (75%), the United Kingdom (84% to 92%), and Rwanda (93%)'but falls well short of 80%, the goal set by the Healthy People 2020 initiative (www.healthypeople.gov).
The focus has been on “the virus being sexually transmitted, rather than HPV vaccines preventing cancer,” says Lisa Richardson, MD, director of the CDC's division of cancer prevention and control. Meanwhile, this stigma has resulted in “a reluctance among many primary care providers to provide a clear, simple recommendation: ‘Now's the time for your young adolescent to get vaccinated,’” says Robert Croyle, PhD, director of the NCI's division of cancer control and population sciences.
The vaccine's efficacy increases the earlier it is given—“it works best in those who haven't been infected with the virus, which essentially means people who aren't yet sexually active,” says Gary Gilliland, MD, PhD, president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. As such, children should be vaccinated by age 17, and ideally before they turn 13. However, young men and women up to ages 21 and 26, respectively (who weren't vaccinated as adolescents), can still protect themselves against infection by completing the three-dose series.
“We're often asked, ‘When are we going to find a cure for cancer?’” observes Patrick Loehrer Sr., MD, director of Indiana University's Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. “The truth is that the HPV vaccine is better than a cure. It can literally eliminate cervical cancer and a large subtype of head and neck cancers.” –Alissa Poh
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- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.