In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Medical Center has joined with the other 68 National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated cancer centers across the country in issuing a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer. Read the joint statement.
“HPV-induced cancers are a major public health threat—one that is almost totally preventable. Unfortunately, current vaccination rates are unacceptably low,” said Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center. “At a time when overall cancer rates are escalating, we have a tool in place to prevent infection with the cancer-causing strains of HPV, which cause all cervical cancers and are a major—and increasing—cause of head and neck cancer. It is disappointing that more individuals are not taking advantage of this vaccination. We strongly call upon the nations’ physicians, parents, and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.”
NCI-designated cancer centers joined in this effort in the spirit of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for a national “moonshot” to cure cancer, a collaborative effort led by Vice President Joe Biden.
“This initiative is directly aligned with the desire of the President, Vice President, and all Americans to work constructively together to eradicate cancer,” says Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head, Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “This is one example of actions that can be taken today to make a very big difference in the future cancer burden.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV infections are responsible for approximately 27,000 new cancer diagnoses each year in the United States. Several vaccines are available that can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers.
“Cervical cancer is preventable and the HPV vaccine—a major tool we have to prevent it—is tragically underused,” says Stephanie Blank, MD, associate professor in the NYU Langone Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the department’s gynecologic oncology fellowship program. “Girls and boys should be vaccinated against HPV to prevent HPV-related cancers. Use of these vaccines, coupled with recommended cervical cancer screening, would eliminate most cervical cancer.”
Vaccination rates remain low across the United States, with under 40 percent of girls and just over 21 percent of boys receiving the recommended 3 doses. 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.
To discuss strategies for overcoming these barriers, experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society, and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers met in a summit at MD Anderson Cancer Center last November. During this summit, cancer centers shared findings from 18 NCI-funded environmental scans, or detailed regional assessments, which sought to identify barriers to increasing immunization rates in pediatric settings across the country.
The published call to action was a major recommendation resulting from discussions at that summit, with the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents, and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention.