According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adolescent vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV) continued to climb from 2014 to 2015. The CDC data, compiled from the 2015 National Immunization Survey-Teen, indicate that 56.1% of all adolescents aged 13-17 had received at least one HPV vaccine dose, but just 34.9% received all three recommended doses.
“It’s very encouraging to see the rates of HPV vaccination coverage increase from previous years, but we still have a long way to go,” says Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.
“As a clinician who routinely treats women with devastating cervical cancers, I am well aware of the end results of this viral infection,” Ramondetta says. “The good news is that most of the cancers caused by HPV can be prevented with a simple vaccine.”
According to the CDC, approximately 39,000 new HPV-related cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States, including the majority of cervical, oropharyngeal (the throat, including the tonsils and the base of the tongue), anal and genital cancers.
An estimated 80% of the American population will be exposed to HPV at some point in their lives, and about 79 million people are currently infected with the virus. Because HPV is so common, it is important that parents have their children vaccinated before potential exposure. In January 2016, MD Anderson joined with all of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers in support of the HPV vaccine for cancer prevention in releasing a consensus statement.
The Food and Drug Administration currently recommends boys and girls to receive three doses of the vaccine between the ages of 9 and 13. Although not as effective after this age, both boys and girls can still be vaccinated up to age 26. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 initiative has set a goal of reaching 80% vaccination in boys and girls within the next 4 years.
Internationally, other countries have shown this to be an attainable objective. Rwanda (99%), the United Kingdom (86%), Belgium (82%), Portugal (87%), Denmark (82%) and Australia (73%) each have significantly higher vaccination rates than the U.S.
Despite the positive trends, rates remain far short of the Healthy People 2020 goal. The CDC reports that 63% of girls received one dose of the vaccine, up from 60% in 2014. There was a similarly modest increase for all three doses, from 40% to 42%.
There were more substantial improvements in vaccinations rates among boys. Males receiving at least one dose increased from 42% to 50%, and the coverage for all three doses increased to 28% — compared to just 22% in 2014.
“The marked improvement in vaccination rates among boys is especially promising,” says Erich Sturgis, M.D., professor of Head and Neck Surgery. “We are witnessing an epidemic of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers among men in the United States.”
There currently are more than 12,000 oropharyngeal cancers diagnosed in men each year in the U.S., a number that has been continuing to rise in recent years. Oropharyngeal cancers in men are now more common than that of women diagnosed annually with cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, unlike cervical cancer, there is no effective screening test for oropharyngeal cancers.
“Most oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed at late stages, when treatment is less effective,” Sturgis says. “Therefore, it is critical that we continue these vaccination trends, especially in boys, to protect them from these cancers in the future.”