February 11, 2016
Cancer centers address HPV's public health threat
BY Clayton Boldt, Ph.D.
In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has joined with the 68 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers in issuing a statement calling for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer. These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nation’s health care providers, parents and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.
“The NCI-designated cancer centers are at the cutting edge of cancer research, care and prevention, but they have rarely come together in concerted action,” says Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head, Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. “These centers care for patients daily with HPV-related cancers, and there is no greater motivation for prevention than that experience. Therefore, they have bonded together in the hope that their collective action will catch the public’s attention to highlight the tremendous opportunity we have to prevent these cancers.”
MD Anderson recently commended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for a national “moonshot” to cure cancer and Vice President Joe Biden for leading this collaborative effort.
“This initiative is directly aligned with the desire of the president, vice president and all Americans to work constructively together to eradicate cancer,” says Hawk. “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.
“MD Anderson has made a commitment to ending HPV-related cancers with the recently unveiled HPV-related Cancers Moon Shot,” says Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine and co-leader of the moon shot. “One of our goals is to inspire policy and education to increase HPV adolescent vaccination rates to 80 percent to prevent several cancers.”
MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program is an unprecedented effort and novel organizational model designed to more rapidly convert scientific discoveries into life-saving advances.
“Most Americans are exposed to HPV at some point in their lifetimes,” says Ramondetta. “HPV infection is really just part of being human. That is why it is so important to have our children vaccinated, to protect them from a number of cancers in the future.”
However, 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, explains Ramondetta, 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, MD Anderson hosted experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers in a summit 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.
MD Anderson published the findings of its own environmental scan, focused on the HPV burden in Texas, in December.
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.