Nearly 80 million Americans—1 out of every 4 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 staggering figures and the availability of a vaccine to prevent the infections that cause these cancers, HPV vaccination remains low in the United States.
NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center has partnered with 69 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated cancer centers to issue a statement urging increased HPV vaccination and screening to eliminate HPV-related cancers, starting with cervical cancer. These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat, and call 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.
“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, PhD, director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. “We are asking healthcare providers to stand with us and recommend the HPV vaccine. Parents can join with us by asking their doctors about vaccination.”
“HPV-induced cancers are a major public health threat—one that is almost totally preventable. Unfortunately, current vaccination rates are unacceptably low,” says Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, director of 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 vaccine.”
Vaccination rates remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the U.S. According 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), less than 50 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys completed the recommended vaccine series. 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.
“Cervical cancer is preventable and the HPV vaccine—a major tool we have to prevent it—is tragically underused,” says Ophira M. Ginsburg, MD, associate professor in the departments of Medicine and Population Health, and director of the High Risk Cancer Genetics Program at Perlmutter Cancer Center. “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.”
HPV experts from the nation’s top cancer centers, along with partners from the NCI, CDC, and the American Cancer Society, are meeting June 7 and 8 in Salt Lake City to discuss a path forward to 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.
“The United States has an unprecedented opportunity to not just prevent cancers caused by HPV, but to eliminate them. This means getting to a point in time when cancers such as cervical cancer are no longer diagnosed in our country,” says Dr. Giuliano.
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 healthcare providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.