Joint statement urges parents, young adults and physicians to act to increase vaccination rates

In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine has joined with the 68 other National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in issuing a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer. These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call on the nations’ physicians, parents and young adults to take advantage of this opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.

“Infection caused by the HPV virus is extremely common, and cancers caused by this infection are on the rise,” said Dr. Kent Osborne, director of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. “They include cancers of the cervix, other genital organs, mouth, tongue and throat. Happily, this infection and these later cancers are totally preventable. HPV vaccination is a very safe and effective way to prevent them, and the Duncan Cancer Center together with cancer centers all over the country are working together to eradicate these and other cancers, in this case through a simple vaccination. All of us need to work together to prevent cancer whenever possible.”

National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers joined in this effort in the spirit of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for a national “moonshot” to cure cancer, a collaborative effort led by Vice President Joe Biden.

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. 

“The HPV vaccine is one of the safest and easiest ways to prevent cancer that exists anywhere in the world. Its use should be a must for anyone concerned about their own health or the health of their loved ones,” said Dr. Matthew Anderson, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor whose clinical and research focus includes prevention and treatment of HPV and cervical cancer.

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, 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, experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers met in a summit in Houston last November. During this summit, cancer centers shared findings on identifying barriers to increasing immunization rates in pediatric settings across the country.

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 healthcare providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention.