Cancer Centers Urge More People to Get the HPV Vaccine

Written By:Stacy Simon

Editor’s Note: Guidelines on recommended ages to get the HPV vaccine are updated as scientific evidence continues to evolve. Please read the most recent vaccination recommendations here.

The American Cancer Society is supporting a call-to-action from dozens of National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Centers across the US urging action to increase vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV vaccines protect against high-risk types of the virus that cause most cervical cancers. The virus is also linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

Despite this, vaccination rates across the US remain low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 40% of girls and 21% of boys in the US have received all 3 doses of the vaccine. The CDC recommends that girls and boys receive 3 doses of HPV vaccine at ages 11 or 12 years. The vaccines work best if they are given before HPV infection occurs. The types of HPV that can cause cancer are sexually transmitted, and most girls and boys at this age are not yet sexually active. It’s also an age when they still will be seeing their doctor regularly and getting other vaccinations.

The American Cancer Society’s Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of cancer control intervention, HPV & women’s cancers, says it’s time to increase HPV vaccination in the US. “We have a cancer prevention vaccine. HPV vaccines have been available for 10 years. They are safe and they work. Yet in this country only about half of girls and boys who are vaccinated with the other vaccines recommended for preteens are getting vaccinated to protect them from cancer. The reasons are complicated, but one thing is for sure: this is a national public health priority.”

Low vaccination rates threaten public health

In its call-to-action, NCI-designated Cancer Centers call low rates of HPV vaccination a “serious public health threat.” According to the CDC, about 79 million people in the US are currently infected with HPV and 14 million new infections happen each year. The CDC says that every year, 27,000 women and men are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer.

Saslow says, “HPV vaccination is underutilized despite the overwhelming evidence for its safety and effectiveness. Vaccines are among the few medical interventions capable of achieving almost complete eradication of a disease. It is not often that we have an opportunity to prevent cancer, or in this case multiple cancers, with a single tool. Concerted efforts are needed so that this opportunity is not lost.”

The HPV vaccines were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration after passing extensive safety testing. They have also been tested and approved by the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. Still, vaccination rates in the US are significantly lower than other countries including the United Kingdom (84-92%), Australia (75%), and Rwanda (93%).

American Cancer Society efforts

As part of its work to increase rates of HPV vaccination, the American Cancer Society leads the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, a national coalition of organizations that includes the NCI-designated Cancer Centers. Cervical cancer survivor Tamika Felder is a member of the roundtable’s survivor group task force. She is passionate about educating young women to protect themselves from cervical cancer through vaccination. “I’m happy to have a seat at the table,” said Felder. “My generation could be the last generation of cervical cancer survivors. I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I went through.”

In addition, the Society’s Vaccinate Adolescents against Cancer (VACs) program is working to increase HPV vaccination rates for adolescents across the nation by partnering with health centers and providing training and other tools to clinicians.

How to take action

The NCI-designated Cancer Centers call-to-action encourages parents and guardians, young women and men, and health care providers to protect young people from HPV infection and HPV-related cancers:

  • Parents and guardians should make sure their children complete the 3-dose HPV vaccine series before their 13th birthday. For children ages 13-17 who have not already been vaccinated, complete the series as soon as possible. Talk to your health care provider to learn more about HPV vaccines and their benefits.
  • Young women (up to age 26) and young men (up to age 21) who have not been vaccinated should complete the 3-dose HPV vaccine series to protect themselves against HPV.
  • Health care providers should join the fight against cancer by strongly recommending childhood HPV vaccination to parents and guardians, and helping to educate colleagues about the importance and benefits of HPV vaccination.

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