Most cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) are preventable with a vaccine. Yet the infection is responsible for 41,000 cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S.
To reduce that number, Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is joining with the 69 other National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers to promote HPV vaccination. The campaign is the result of continuing national concern about low rates of HPV vaccination, an intervention proven to prevent the potentially deadly disease in adults.
“Cancer prevention is always preferable to cancer treatment,” said Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, Siteman director and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine. “And preventing cancers caused by HPV is as simple as receiving a vaccine.”
HPV, a group of more than 150 related viruses, is the most common sexually transmitted infection and will infect 75-80 percent of people at some point in their lives. Most HPV 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. Cervical cancer, which can cause infertility, is the most common HPV-related cancer in women. Oropharyngeal cancers, which occur in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils, are the most common HPV-related cancers in men.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that boys and girls receive the vaccine, known commercially as Gardasil or Cervarix. It’s routinely given at age 11 or 12 but may be given beginning at age 9 years through age 26. Most adolescents ages 9-14 should get the HPV vaccine as a two-dose series with the doses separated by 6-12 months. People who start HPV vaccination at age 15 or older should get the vaccine as a three-dose series with the second dose given 1-2 months after the first dose and the third dose given 6 months after the first dose. There are several exceptions to these age recommendations, which can be discussed with a child’s pediatrician or parent’s own physician. Additional information is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Only 50 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys in the U.S. completed the vaccine series in 2016, much lower than the nation’s goal of 80 percent by 2020.
“No parent would wish cancer on his or her child down the road,” Eberlein said. “By vaccinating adolescents against HPV, we can help ensure a healthier future ahead.”
Other NCI-Designated Cancer Centers promoting HPV vaccination as part of the current campaign are The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The American Cancer Society, American Association for Cancer Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology and other cancer organizations also are involved.
NCI-Designated Cancer Centers are the core of the nation’s cancer research efforts, whether they’re conducting basic laboratory research or clinical studies aimed at developing new treatments. In all, there are 70 such centers across the U.S., which include 49 NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, the highest federal designation for cancer centers. These 49 centers, including Siteman, are recognized for their broad-based research, outreach, education and prevention activities.