70 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers Endorse Steps to Reduce HPV-Related Cancers

At a Glance

  • The HPV vaccine prevents a large majority of the HPV infections that cause cancer.
  • HPV vaccination rates remain well below the goal of 80 percent.
  • Leaders in cancer research and cancer care have issued a call to action to improve vaccination and screening rates.
  • Physicians are encouraged to make clear recommendations for HPV vaccination and screening.

In a recently released statement, UVA Cancer Center joins the nation’s top cancer centers in a plea to physicians, parents and young adults to take greater steps to increase vaccination rates and screenings to eliminate HPV-related cancers.

“For the past decade, medicine has had the ability to eradicate future cervical cancers (and markedly decrease other HPV-related cancers) with a combination of prevention via HPV vaccination and cancer screening, yet that dream has yet to be fully realized,” says Susan Modesitt, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at UVA Cancer Center. “As a medical community, we have the responsibility to advocate for HPV vaccination and educate all of our patients (as well as the physicians caring for them) about the benefits so that cervical cancer could become a disease of the past like polio or smallpox.”

As you know, an effective and safe HPV vaccine is available that prevents a large majority of the HPV infections that cause cancer. However, HPV vaccination rates remain well below the national goal of 80 percent. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 49.5 percent of girls and 37.5 percent of boys ages 13-17 were up to date with their HPV vaccinations in 2016.

In response, this group of leaders in cancer research and cancer care has issued a Call to Action that ties into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthy People 2020 goals. They include:

  • Reaching a vaccination rate of more than 80 percent of males and females ages 13 to 15 by 2020
  • Screening 93 percent of age-eligible females for cervical cancer by 2020
  • Providing prompt follow-up and proper treatment of females who screen positive for high-grade, cervical pre-cancerous lesions.

For healthcare providers specifically, the group encourages you to:

  • Make clear and strong recommendations for HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening; and
  • Educate parents, guardians, community members, and colleagues about the goal of eliminating cancers caused by HPV in the U.S.

HPV Talking Points

If you have patients and families who are hesitant to receive the HPV vaccine, share the talking points below to help clear up some of the many myths and misconceptions about this effective tool for cancer prevention.

My children aren’t sexually active, so they don’t need the HPV vaccine.

Like any vaccine, the HPV vaccine needs time to take effect before it can adequately protect against infection. This is why the CDC recommends that girls and boys are vaccinated at 11 or 12 years of age. If given prior to age 15, children should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Teens and young adults ages 15 to 26 who have not been vaccinated will need three doses of the vaccine for it to be most effective.

It’s important to note that there are more than 200 types of HPV that inhabit different parts of the body; 40 of these tend to affect the genital area. So although it’s true that HPV can be spread by sexual contact, that isn’t the only way this virus gets transmitted. In fact, just about everyone who has any type of physical contact with another person is exposed to HPV.

HPV is so prevalent that 80 percent of men and women will contract HPV at some point in their lives. Most will expel the virus naturally over time, but others will not clear it and may contract a strain that puts them at risk for cancer. According to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 25 percent of men and 20 percent of women will be infected by these high-risk strains. The current HPV vaccine protects against the two strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers as well as five other strains implicated with HPV-associated cancers.

HPV is more likely to cause cancer in women than men.

Cervical cancer is the cancer most closely associated with HPV, as the virus causes almost all of these cancers. However, HPV is also linked to other cancers that affect men more than women, including penile cancer, cancers of the head and neck, and even some lung cancers. HPV vaccination could prevent 12,000 cervical cancers annually, however there are 40,000 other cancers that are HPV-related.

I’ve never had genital warts, so I do not have HPV.

Of the 200 types of HPV, only two — HPV 6 and 11 — cause genital warts. These types of HPV rarely develop into cancer. Other types of HPV, including the 13 high-risk strains, typically have no symptoms, so you may unknowingly have the virus and spread it to others.

The HPV vaccine is unsafe.

Like all vaccines used in the U.S., the HPV vaccine has undergone rigorous safety testing and continues to be monitored by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The only side effects reported have been mild and include: pain or swelling at the site of injection, nausea or vomiting, muscle or joint pain, fever and headache. The greatest risk is for those children who have severe allergies, so talk to your doctor about the ingredients in the HPV vaccines prior to immunization.

HPV vaccination is not a requirement, so it must not be necessary.

“Although the vaccine is not required for school entry like other childhood vaccinations, we believe this vaccine is an opportunity to put an end to HPV infection and prevent HPV-associated cancers,” says Modesitt. “All we need is more parents to understand and embrace this amazing opportunity to vaccinate their children to prevent cancer.”