A number of leading cancer experts in the U.S. issued a joint statement Wednesday urging parents and pediatricians to increase vaccination rates of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection that has been linked to several forms of cancer.
Currently, just 42 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys in the U.S. have finished the three-shot series, the statement says, adding that the small number “poses a serious public health threat.” “Leading experts believe increasing vaccination rates will prevent 40,000 cases of HPV-associated cancers in the U.S. each year and ensure that our nation’s children don’t grow up to become cancer patients,” the statement reads.
Now, experts note, recently revised guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that children under age 15 should receive two doses of the 9-valent HPV vaccine at least six months apart — a departure from the previously recommended three doses. (However, teens over the age of 14 should continue to complete the three-dose series.)
A report published by the CDC in July found that the number of cancers related to HPV is increasing in the U.S. According to the CDC, nearly 39,000 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed every year from 2008 to 2012 — an increase from the 33,000 diagnosed between 2004 and 2008. Almost 60 of those new cases were in women, the majority of whom had cervical cancer, while men were largely diagnosed with oral cancer related to HPV.
Electra Paskett, PhD and co-program-leader of the Cancer Control Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center who worked on the statement, tells Yahoo Beauty that the shot series has incorrectly been painted as a vaccination for promiscuity. “We need to look at this as a cancer vaccine, because that’s what it is,” she says. “People are still dying of these HPV-related cancers, and we have something that can help prevent this.”
The vaccination rate against HPV is concerning since the virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 90 percent of women and 80 percent of men who are sexually active will get some form of HPV in their lifetime.
Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., agrees. “It’s an anti-cancer vaccine,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “How could you say no to that?”
Susan Vadaparampil, MD, MPH, of Moffitt Cancer Center, tells Yahoo Beauty that there are likely several reasons for the low vaccination rates. Pediatricians may not be recommending the vaccine to patients and their parents as strongly as they should, she says. “Provider recommendation is a very important aspect of parents deciding to choose a medical treatment or preventive strategy for their child,” she says. “We see that providers do not consistently or strongly recommend the vaccine.”
Anna Giuliano, PhD, the founding director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at the Moffitt Cancer Center, tells Yahoo Beauty there’s also a general dislike or apathy among the public toward vaccines that they’re not required to get. For example, many schools require that children receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, but the same isn’t true for the HPV vaccine. “It’s another vaccine that doesn’t have a rule around it — there’s a recommendation but not rule — in the context of a society that doesn’t feel that it needs to protect itself very much at all,” she says.
Some parents are also concerned that giving their child the vaccine before they’re sexually active is unnecessary. “I’ve had numerous parents who don’t think it’s important enough,” Fisher says. “We get a lot of pushback from families.” Other parents are concerned that it will encourage their kids to become sexually active, but Paskett says there is no data to back that up. “Studies have shown that girls who get the vaccine are no more likely to be promiscuous or use birth control than those who didn’t get it,” she says.
And then there’s the fact that the previous vaccine required three trips to the pediatrician’s office, which can be tough for parents and children with already busy schedules. Paskett is hopeful that switching the vaccine to two doses will help.
Experts stress that it’s important for parents to get their kids vaccinated and, if they have questions about it, to talk to their child’s pediatrician or primary care physician. “This is a vaccine that can prevent multiple cancers in males and females — it’s as simple as that,” says Giuliano.