Joint statement urges parents, young adults, and physicians to act to increase vaccination rates.
In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa has joined 68 other top cancer centers in issuing a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer. These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nations’ physicians, parents, and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.
“The HPV vaccine has the potential to dramatically reduce the suffering and deaths that are caused by cancers that are triggered by HPV,” said George Weiner, MD, director, Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and president of the American Association of Cancer Institutes. “The bottom line is, if more young people receive this vaccine, fewer of them will die from these cancers.”
National Cancer Institute (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, MD, 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 U.S. Several vaccines are available that can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat), and other genital cancers.
“Researchers at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center have had a long-standing interest in understanding the relationship between HPV and cancer, and helped discover the connection between the virus and cancer through research done in both our laboratories and our clinics,” said Weiner. “It is now time to take the fruits of this research to help patients. This is why we are committed to increasing the awareness that HPV vaccinations can help reduce the burden of cancer.”
Vaccination rates remain low across the U.S., with under 40 percent of girls and just over 21 percent of boys receiving the recommended three 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.