HPV-associated cancers continue to rise; preventive vaccine underused

by Vicky Cerino
January 11, 2017

Image with caption: Sonja Kinney, M.D.

Sonja Kinney, M.D.

Recognizing a critical need to improve national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha again unites with 68 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers in issuing a joint statement in support of recently revised recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center - an NCI-designated cancer center - is a collaboration of Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

In October, new guidelines from the CDC recommended that children aged 11 to 12 should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Adolescents and young adults older than 15 should continue to complete the three-dose series.

According to the CDC, incidence rates of HPV-associated cancers have continued to rise, with approximately 39,000 new HPV-associated cancers now diagnosed each year in the United States. Although HPV vaccines can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers, vaccination rates remain low across the U.S., with just 41.9 percent of girls and 28.1 percent of boys completing the recommended vaccine series.

Sonja Kinney, M.D., director of the division of general obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said the vaccine can protect against the two high-risk HPV strains that are responsible for causing 70 percent of all cervical cancers and the two low-risk HPV strains that cause 90 percent of genital warts.

"The incidence of these cancers is rapidly increasing, so we must take action now to prevent a future epidemic," said Dr. Kinney, who sees patients at Nebraska Medicine. "HPV infections are incredibly common. Almost all sexually active people - 75 to 80 percent -- will be infected. Most infections have no symptoms and are naturally cleared. However, in some cases, HPV infection can lead to several types of devastating cancers later in life, including cervical, oropharyngeal, anal and genital cancers."

The vaccines are given as a series of injections that prompt the body’s immune system to make antibodies. The vaccine also provides protection against head and neck cancers and some anal cancer that may be linked to infection with the HPV virus.

Research shows 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 an effort to overcome these barriers, NCI-designated cancer centers have organized a continuing series of national summits to share new research, discuss best practices, and identify collective action toward improving vaccination rates.

The updated statement is the result of discussions from the most recent summit, hosted last summer by The Ohio State University. Nearly 150 experts from across the country gathered in Columbus to present research updates and plan future collaborative actions across NCI-designated cancer centers.

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center - a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center - is a collaboration of Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. The new cancer center will open in June 2017 with cancer research at the Suzanne and Walter Scott Cancer Research Tower and clinical treatments at the C.L. Werner Cancer Hospital.