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Yale Cancer Center joins national effort endorsing HPV vaccination for cancer prevention

January 27, 2016

In response to low vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), Yale Cancer Center joined more than 69 of the nation’s top cancer centers in issuing a statement on Wednesday, Jan. 27 calling for increased HPV vaccination to prevent six different types of cancer.

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 United States. A vaccine is available that can prevent most cervical, anal, and other genital cancers, as well as oropharyngeal (middle throat) cancer. The vaccine is most effective when given to adolescents, but nationally, only 40% of girls and 21% of boys are receiving the recommended three doses of HPV vaccine.

“The availability of safe and effective vaccines that can prevent six different cancers is an amazing medical achievement. Unfortunately, the current low rates of immunization are threatening the public’s health by leaving many people susceptible to these cancers,” said Linda Niccolai, associate professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at Yale School of Public Health. “It is estimated that current low rates of coverage will result in more than 50,000 preventable cases of cervical cancer in the future.”

Connecticut’s rate of HPV vaccination is slightly better than the national average, with 49% of girls and 27% of boys receiving the full vaccine. However, these rates are far below optimal levels, said the researchers.

“We can, and must, do better. The current underuse of HPV vaccines is a solvable problem. Working together, medical professionals, public health officials, and the public can make a difference,” Niccolai said.

Current rates of coverage in the United States are substantially lower than in many other countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and Rwanda.

Research shows there are a number of barriers to overcome to improve vaccination rates, including inadequate advocacy by physicians, and lack of awareness among parents about how many cancers the vaccine prevents.

“We hope that the strong endorsement of HPV vaccination by the nation’s leading cancer centers will catch the attention of lawmakers, physicians, and parents, many of whom may not yet understand that it is possible to prevent numerous cancers in both men and women with a vaccine,” Yale Cancer Center Deputy Director Daniel DiMaio, M.D., said.

“If the HPV vaccine were used to its full potential, it would prevent thousands of cases of cancer in the United States each year and spare many men and women the burden of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of therapy,” he added. “The eradication of cervical cancer and other HPV-associated cancers is within reach and will be one of the great triumphs of the 21st century.”

Submitted by Renee Gaudette on January 27, 2016